The summer was a bit of a fairy tale. There was happiness all around, and the shambles of English Cricket that had been ever present since the 5-0 thrashing in Australia were nowhere to be seen. The Ashes were regained, New Zealand were seen off in some style, and the order was somewhat restored in English Cricket. But, the road gets tougher from here on, so much so that the upcoming challenges may either take England to the very top, or in a dreadfully abysmal state. The first of those challenges comes in the form of Pakistan - destroyers of some of the most in-form teams in the recent times. Ouch.
England probably know that Pakistan are not even the shadow of the poor side they are away from home - they are quite the opposite - and the 3-0 defeat three years ago when Andrew Strauss' no.1 test side toured The UAE, is another proof of that. They looked short of preparation, and clueless when Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman were operating. It wasn't so much the spin that did them, it was the lack of calm, and Cricketing nous that resulted in their undoing. Instead of trying to simplify things, England made it all look more complicated, and they were never going to escape hence.
This time around, England probably know a bit more about what's coming their way. There's Mahela Jayawerdene who's working with the batsmen, and there are Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace, who are both aware of what it takes to win in such conditions as would be present in The UAE. Cook and boys seem to be more calm and they don't seem to be too affected by the Yasir Shah and Zulfiqar Babar hype, which are all good signs.
However, all these good signs may prove to be useless if England don't show the right approach against the spinners. They must try and set the tone early by playing spin from the front foot and with an attacking mindset. Being ultra-defensive is never a solution as that allows the spinner to settle for a length, and it's the bowler controlling matters thereafter. Every single player in this squad can learn a bit from how Alastair Cook played Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha back in 2012 when the Englishmen won the test series 2-1 in India. Yes, he played them from the back-foot and played them late but he still can be looked up to as an example for the mindset.
The bowling shouldn't be that much of a problem as the batting may be. Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid are two very good spinners who can pile a lot of misery onto the hosts. The pace department looks equally good with James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood - who'll enjoy bowling here - and Ben Stokes. Though, the hopes rest mainly on Ali and Rashid as it's the subcontinent. The spinners have to have a good time or the visitors will be left looking for answers.
It has to be Moeen Ali, there's no other option, is there? The all-round capabilities he has on offer, even Alex Hales' gung-ho approach doesn't appear too attractive or tempting. He'll give England wickets and he'll give runs - what else do you want from an opener, that too in the heat of UAE? As for the other spots, Mark Wood is an obvious choice now that Steven Finn is injured, Adil Rashid is sure to play and Jonny Bairstow may just edge James Taylor as the no.5.
England XI: Cook (C), Ali, Bell, Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Buttler (WK), Rashid Broad, Wood, Anderson.
"We’re probably underdogs. But that’s a great position for this side to be in.
"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. "We’re as ready as we can be.
Everyone’s thrown everything into practice. With these modern tours, four days of acclimatisation in the middle never seems quite enough. But that’s just the way it is."