It would not surprise me if Pakistan were to win the upcoming four-Test series against England. And that’s not just trying to be sensationalist; I think there are very sound cricketing reasons for saying it.
England, for a start, have not played any five-day Test cricket against a leading nation until the trip to South Africa last winter. That’s quite a time ago now.
Since then there have been four Tests against Bangladesh, two away in March and then two at home earlier this summer. But the last of those games was in the first week of June.
It is now the end of July, and England’s players will need to get attuned to the demands of Test cricket very quickly. Pakistan, of course, have had two Test matches against Australia to get themselves attuned.
A number of England players have also not played very much cricket in the past month or so. Some have played a lot of Twenty20 but not much else. Kevin Pietersen has played no cricket at all since injuring himself during the one-day series win against Australia.
To me, at the start of the England-Pakistan series, there are some quite large question marks hovering over the heads of a good number of England players: Cook, Pietersen, Trott, Morgan, Prior, Anderson, Finn.
They all have question marks for different reasons – lack of cricket, fitness, technical questions, the need to pin down a Test place are some of them – but question marks they still are.
Most of all, though, there is the Pakistan bowling attack. That is the main reason why I have made the statement I have at the top of this column.
The Pakistan bowling attack is very, very good. Mohammad Aamer, Mohammad Asif, Umar Gul and Danish Kaneria represent one of the best bowling attacks in world cricket. They all offer something different, and they are all world-class performers.
The way their seamers bowled when Australia were shot out for just 88 at the start of the second Test at Headingley, for instance, was truly superb.
To my mind, these four bowlers – with someone like Shoaib Malik to act as a fifth bowler and second spinner – are good enough to operate in all conditions and to pose batsmen problems with both the new ball and the older ball. Between them, there is swing, seam, spin, pace – and control.
If they bowl to their potential in the four Tests at Trent Bridge, Edgbaston, The Oval and Lord’s, I can see Pakistan causing England’s batsmen a lot of problems. They certainly offer a bowling attack that will be a major challenge.
This series has been billed all summer as the perfect preparation for the Ashes series in Australia this winter, but I think England need to concentrate fully on these four games and forget anything to do with ‘preparing’ for the Ashes.
Mohammad Aamer is clearly a great bowler in the making – if he’s not one already, at 18 – and he has real pace to go with his ability to swing the ball back into the right-handers. Mohammad Asif swings it both ways with wonderful control and Umar Gul is just a very good bowler who knows what he is doing. Add Kaneria’s leg spin and googlies – yes, it is very special.
Pakistan’s weakness, clearly, is their batting, but they still have some very fine players in Salman Butt, Shoiab Malik, Umar Akmal and Kamran Akmal. If, as rumoured, Mohammad Yousuf and even Younis Khan come back into the picture then they will have a very solid-looking batting unit, too.
England, then, have to attack the Pakistani batting and need to bowl very tightly and yet aggressively themselves. Ravi Bopara might be coming back into the picture on the batting front, but with Ian Bell injured the first opportunity looks like it will go to Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan amongst the less established batsmen – assuming Andrew Strauss, Cook, Pietersen and Paul Collingwood are all fit and firing.
The month of August promises a genuinely fascinating Test series, and don’t be surprised if the outcome is not the one England’s team and their supporters might expect.
Pakistan may be like a wandering side these days, due to the unfortunate situation they have at home, but they are hugely talented and they will also not want for support here in this country.