DUBAI – Haroon Siddiqui - Pakistan and England will face off once again in third one-dayer today (Saturday) with England eyeing the series victory while Pakistan in a desperate need of win to remain in the four match series.
After sweeping the Test series, Misbah-ul-Haq and his men have failed to match up to the quality in the ODIs as displayed by their opponents twice now. Although the hosts did string together a better performance with the bat in the second ODI, they still didn't have enough in the arsenal to take them across the finish line. With two games remaining in the series, Pakistan cannot afford to lose a single game from here and the 'Men in Green' have to find a way to counter the English onslaught.
The batting has looked quite shaky throughout the ODI series so far. Not a single Pakistani batsman has scored a half century until now and apart from Misbah and Azhar Ali, who has played just the one innings so far, everyone averages below thirty. These problems have been compounded with M Hafeez's poor form at the top of the order and Younus Khan's struggle at number four. Pakistan will have to pull up their socks in the batting department if they wish to change their fortunes.
Misbah-ul Haq has called for his batsmen to put up a stronger fight to change Pakistan's fortunes. "We have to really improve our batting," the Pakistan captain said on Friday. "In the Tests and one-dayers both the teams were struggling in their batting and most of the time it was the bowling that was saving both."
Misbah refused to single out any individual for blame and said everyone had to take shoulder responsibility. "Even in the Sri Lankan series our lower middle order was not contributing," he said of his team's 4-1 win in November last year.
Saturday's match sees the return of former captain Shoaib Malik, who was dropped for the second game, with Pakistan looking to add more bowling options as well as a strengthened batting line-up, Misbah added. England have performed well in the one-day series and Misbah said that improvement was vital to avoid another defeat.
Misbah said the players also needed to master the weather conditions in the United Arab Emirates, where Pakistan currently play "home" fixtures due to the uncertain security situation at home. Two new balls and day-night matches make the ball move more in the air and skid off the pitch in the evening, he added.
"Sometimes it is difficult as an Asian team batting second to chase," he explained. "As professionals we have to discover that and we have to overcome that." Other setbacks include having to play with a stand-in wicketkeeper in Umar Akmal, who dropped Alastair Cook on 28 in the second match. Cook went on to hit his second successive hundred. "It is really a difficult decision for us to keep a talented keeeper Adnan Akmal out of the side. Again it is due to the pressure on our batting line up. It is not clicking. So that is troubling us at the moment." England's path forward looks quite rosy and one without too many hurdles. They are 2-0 up and don't have to be fearful of a possibility of losing the series, simply because it isn't a possibility anymore. Alastair Cook has been leading from the front so far, courtesy back to back centuries. Senior batsman Kevin Pietersen praised one-day captain Alastair Cook for the successive one-day hundreds that gave England an unassailable 2-0 lead. "It's been a really good turnaround after the Test matches," said Pietersen. He said Cook had stood up to the mark since being made captain last year. "Cooky's such a good player, who is fulfilling his role in the team really, really well. You can't complain when you get two hundreds in successive games."
On his own form, Pietersen said he was trying his best to score with the help of coach Andy Flower after being used as opener in the one-dayers. "Andy's a great believer, and the team realise, that not every single person in the team is always going to be on form -- and a few of us haven't been in the best nick," Pietersen said.
"But dovetailing is a word Andy has used a lot over the last few years, since he's come into the job, and you need that. That's why we've done so well. We were fortunate to have a lot of players in a lot of good form over the last 18 months, and then quite a few who have struggled on this trip. But the dovetailing in the one-day team has certainly been there, and it's proven by the way we've played in the last couple of games."
England have looked far better in the ODI series than they did in the Tests but some of their batsmen are yet to perform with the willow. Pakistan will be under a lot of pressure to win both the matches from here and will know that they can get through England's batting order, if they get rid of Cook and Bopara early.