Alastair Cook is confident England are capable of playing the “amazing cricket” required to become the first tourists to beat Pakistan since their relocation to the United Arab Emirates.
The “hosts” are unbeaten in seven series here since 2010/11, and trounced England 3-0 when they ventured into the desert for the first time the following winter.
Cook, however, believes England are much better informed after that initial expedition about the task facing them – and he does not mind either that, as before their successful summer Ashes campaign, his team will start as outsiders.
“We’re probably underdogs. But that’s a great position for this side to be in,” the England captain said. “Not too many people are giving us too much of a chance the day before this series – quite similar to another series we’ve just played. With the talent and the character of the dressing room – yes, we’ve got to play some amazing cricket over the next 15 days to put Pakistan under pressure. We realise that, but I’m very confident in those guys.”
Both teams have already suffered an injury setback, each foot problems – Pakistan’s key batsman Azhar Ali out of the first Test in Abu Dhabi today with an infection and England seamer Steven Finn missing because of a bone stress injury.
Additionally, Pakistan may be without prolific leg-spinner Yasir Shah after a painful back spasm at nets.
Both teams have yet to be formally announced, but England are set to give a debut to their leg-spinner, Adil Rashid, and will promote Moeen Ali to open alongside the captain.
Whatever the fine-tuning of personnel, Cook is looking forward to being tested here again.
“I’m really excited about what’s going to happen,” he added.
“We have options to go for and a side willing to take on that challenge.
“We understand the pressures of playing sub-continent cricket as well – it’s a lot slower-paced. You can lose games of cricket in a short space of time. But you have to do a lot of good work over a long period to win games, and the guys are prepared for that.”
He has hoarded knowledge from his last trip, but insists history will count for nothing when the battle resumes.
“It’s a different side,” he said of the 2015 tourists, among whom only four figured last time.
“I thought we learned the lessons a little bit in the one-day series afterwards – when you’re forced to play a little bit (more) positively, you can put the pressure back on the opposition. That’s the way we want to play.”
The knack will be striking a balance between attack and defence, and choosing the right moment for each. “It’s not going to be crash, bang, wallop like it was in the summer because of the natural pace of the game.
“We’ll play positively, but there will be times when you come in, the first 30 or 40 balls, four or five men around the bat – you could have half an hour before tea.
“You’ve got to be able to survive and get used to these conditions before you can push on. The guys are aware of that.”
England have had just two two-day warm-up matches against Pakistan A to acclimatise and attune themselves to the extreme heat and arid pitches here.
But Cook added: “We’re as ready as we can be. With these modern tours, four days of acclimatisation in the middle never seems quite enough. But that’s just the way it is.”
England’s task may be lightened if Yasir is unfit.
The threat he poses, having taken 61 wickets in only 10 Tests, has dominated many pre-series discussions.
But Cook will not be sidetracked by issues beyond his control. “Of course, it would be a loss for them,” he said. “As always, the day before a big series, we’re concentrating on matters which are important to us. Clearly, he’s a fantastic bowler who not many of us have faced.”
As for Finn, England are hoping he may be available later in the tour after bowlingwell against Pakistan A last week.
“It’s a bitter blow for him,” Cook added. “He bowled really well in that warm-up game. Over the last 12 months, he has made huge strides back to where we want him to be. We’ll monitor him over the next bit of time – and hope he’s right for the second Test.”