ABU DHABI: England face the daunting prospect of overcoming Pakistan's new-look spinning line-up as the Ashes winners try to reverse their 3-0 Test whitewash last time around on the dry pitches of the United Arab Emirates. When they met in the United Arab Emirates in 2012, Pakistan annihilated the then world number one Test team 3-0, thanks to spinners Saeed Ajmal (24 wickets) and Abdul Rehman (19 wickets).

As they begin a three-match Test series in Abu Dhabi from Tuesday, Pakistan will rely on the same weapon but in the hands of leg-spinners Yasir Shah and Zulfiqar Babar who have taken over from Ajmal and Rehman, who were not selected for the series.

England captain Alastair Cook admits the enormity of his team's task.

"I think they have played six or seven series and haven't lost a series. That shows what is in front of us. The great thing in Test cricket is trying to win away from home. It's getting harder and harder," said Cook, one of four survivors of the 2012 Tests.

Ajmal, whose controversial bowling action was questioned back in 2012, was suspended last year but after being cleared with a new style seems to have lost his wicket-taking ability, leaving his career in the balance.

"I don't think (Ajmal's absence) weakens or strengthens them anyway. It's always when you play Pakistan, India or Sri Lanka spin plays a role," Cook said.

Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq is confident Shah will fill the void, having led the country to series wins over Australia in Abu Dhabi last year and in Sri Lanka three months ago.

"The way Yasir is bowling he is a threat to any team," said Misbah, who could retire at the end of the series. "But it's not only about our spinners. It's also about our fast bowlers and the way we bat against their spinners."

Cook admitted Shah poses a variety of challenges.

"He has an outstanding start to his Test career," said Cook. "Sixty wickets in ten games is a great effort and obviously Saeed was a great bowler as well."

Pakistan's batting will revolve around Younis Khan, Misbah, Azhar Ali and Sarfraz Ahmed who have been in great form in the last 12 months.