Pakistan look to spin England into a web

England should be confident after reclaiming the Ashes on home soil this year with a 3-2 win over Australia, but Alastair Cook’s charges will also feel some trepidation after their last series against Pakistan in 2012 ended in a 3-0 whitewash.

Pakistan's Yasir Shah with coach Waqar Younis during a net session ahead of their Test match against England in Abu Dhabi. Shah, 29, made his Test debut last year and has since claimed 61 wickets in 10 matches   -  REUTERS

Younis Khan, Pakistan’s all-time third-highest run scorer, will be crucial to the host’s batting hopes especially after Azhar Ali was ruled out of the first Test due to injury.   -  Getty Images

Pakistan is banking on Yasir Shah and Zulfiqar Babar to cause enough trouble to English batsmen as the two countries renew a 51-year rivalry in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.

England should be confident after reclaiming the Ashes on home soil this year with a 3-2 win over Australia, but Alastair Cook’s charges will also feel some trepidation after their last series against Pakistan in 2012 ended in a 3-0 whitewash. Spin duo Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman were England’s chief tormentors back then, taking 43 wickets for an average of 15.6 runs, but they are absent this time so Shah and Babar, both late bloomers, will be Pakistan’s leading spinners in the three-Test series.

Shah, 29, made his Test debut last year and has since claimed 61 wickets in 10 matches, including 24 against Sri Lanka in July. Babar, 36, has 42 wickets in 10 matches following his debut in 2013.

“The way he (Shah) is bowling he’s a threat to every team, he’s our strength,” said Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq, 41. “To win a Test match, a series, you can’t just focus on one bowler. Zulfiqar and the fast bowlers will play a key role because of the reverse swing, especially with the new ball.”

Younis nearing Miandad’s record

Younis Khan, Pakistan’s all-time third-highest run scorer, will be crucial to the host’s batting hopes especially after Azhar Ali was ruled out of the first Test due to injury. Younis is poised to surpass Javed Miandad as Pakistan’s greatest Test match run scorer. The 37-year-old needs just 19 more runs in the three-Test series to pass Miandad’s tally of 8,832 runs scored in 124 matches. Younis has so far scored 8,814 runs in 101 Tests, with a Pakistan record of 30 centuries. Inzamam-ul-Haq is second on the list with 8824 runs from 119 Test matches.

Most Pakistan players arrived in the UAE on Wednesday from a one-day series in Zimbabwe. The team opted for just one warm-up match, a sign of confidence about playing in their adopted UAE home where Pakistan remains unbeaten in seven series.

“Any away team these days seem to be the underdogs,” England coach Trevor Bayliss said. “Experience-wise, we’ve got some young players but players with a lot of ability and skill. There’s no reason why we can’t play some good cricket and if we play some good cricket we’ll be hard to beat.”

Finn out injured

Meanwhile, England fast bowler Steven Finn will miss the first Test against Pakistan with a foot injury, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced on Monday. The 26-year-old has sustained a stress injury to his left foot and will therefore sit out of the opening match in the three-Test series. Finn first felt pain in his foot during England’s second warm-up match against Pakistan ‘A’ in Sharjah last week, but took part in a nets session on Sunday.

Joe Root, the world’s third-ranked batsman, will be England’s main scoring hope after many of the specialist batsmen struggled in the Ashes. All-rounder Moeen Ali, a handy off-spinner and regular at No. 8, seems likely to become Cook’s seventh opening partner since Andrew Strauss’s retirement in 2012 as the tourists try to instil greater resolve at the top of the order. “It’s always a challenge whenever you play Pakistan; the trial by spin will be tough,” said Cook.

Only four England players remain from the 2012 mauling — batsmen Cook and Ian Bell, plus fast bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

On-field temperatures could top 40 degrees Celsius for much of play so England may opt for a six-man attack. Adil Rashid looks poised for his Test debut after the spinner ended a six-year absence from One-Day Internationals this year, which would likely leave Mark Wood and Ben Stokes, another all-rounder, vying for the final bowling spot.

Dubai will stage the second Test from October 22 and Sharjah the third from November 1.

The teams (from): Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (capt.), Ahmed Shehzad, Shan Masood, Mohammad Hafeez, Fawad Alam, Asad Shafiq, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed, Yasir Shah, Zulfiqar Babar, Wahab Riaz, Imran Khan, Rahat Ali and Junaid Khan.

England: Alastair Cook (capt.), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Samit Patel, Jonny Bairstow, Ian Bell, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, James Taylor and Mark Wood. — Agencies