After what was an exciting summer for England supporters, the team is on the move again, flying out to Dubai for its autumn series against a resurgent Pakistan. This series is important in the development of both teams, and seems balanced on the performances of some key players. We look at the bets you should consider.
Optimism with England
The England & Wales Cricket Board has awarded new central contracts to Eoin Morgan, the limited-overs captain, and Mark Wood. Central contracts are the English way of ensuring control over players' match time and preparation. For Wood, this is a show of confidence in a player whose aggressive and accurate fast bowling helped England clinch the Ashes. For Morgan, it is justification of his decision, with his county, Middlesex, to take a mid-season break, after which he returned looking revitalised for the England one-day series against Australia.
Both players are in the England squad for the tour of the United Arab Emirates, although Morgan is unlikely to play test cricket any time soon, and his contract award is partly in order to increase his remuneration and ensure that he focuses on England, possibly instead of playing in the Indian Premier League in 2016.
An incremental contract was handed to Alex Hales, who, after playing so well for Nottinghamshire in the County Championship, has finally been recognised by selectors as far more than a limited-overs hitter, as reflected in his call-up as one of the batsmen in the test squad. Given the limited shelf-life of previous players who have opened alongside Alastair Cook, it is to be hoped Hales is given time and patience to live up to his billing.
Pakistan on the Rise
Pakistan plays its "home" international series in the UAE because of the tragic events in Lahore in 2009, when the Sri Lankan team bus was attacked by terrorists. The series against England also marks a reunion of teams that have had many controversial encounters before now, including the 2010 series in which three players, Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir, were found to have taken money in exchange for having engaged in "spot-fixing", that is, the deliberate execution of no-balls and other activities at certain times in the match.
In spite of these enormous setbacks, Pakistani cricket now looks to be finding its way out of the woods. Selectors have focused in recent years on putting time and resources into young talent, and a number of new faces have stepped up to the plate as a consequence.
The team boasts the number one spin-bowler in the world, Yasir Shah, sometime Middlesex bowler Junaid Khan, and Wahab Riaz, who it is hoped will follow in a proud Pakistan bowling tradition that includes greats like Shoaib Akhtar, the "Rawalpindi Express", who bowled the first official 100mph ball in the 2003 World Cup.
Although England is buoyant after a great half-season against New Zealand and Australia, Pakistan away is a tough task for any side. Pakistan, after a reverse in the one-day series against Bangladesh, took the test series, and then test, one-day and T20 series against Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan great Mahela Jayawardene joins England's coaching staff as a batting coach, and his expertise against spin will be needed to combat the excellent Yasir.
This series in the UAE, where there is strong support for the adopted home side, is delicately-balanced, though bookmakers have made Pakistan the big early favourite to win the test series.
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