Cricket: Hafeez in fine form as tough England test looms

Pakistan warmed up for their coming test series against England in the United Arab Emirates with Mohammad Hafeez smashing an aggressive unbeaten century to guide his team to 212-1 at lunch yesterday, the second day of the first cricket test against Bangladesh.

Pakistan lead Bangladesh by 77 runs after resuming on an overnight score of 132-0. Hafeez started the second day on 74, and his overnight partner Taufeeq Umar (61) was the only batsman to be dismissed in the first session when he was trapped lbw by Mahmudullah.

Azhar Ali was not out on 24 with Hafeez on 113 at the break. Hafeez's total came off 187 balls and included 12 boundaries.

On Friday, Bangladesh were dismissed for 135 before tea in their first innings in the face of aggressive bowling by Pakistan. Pakistan are in the midst of an unbeaten streak stretching back to the one-day series against Sri Lanka in the United Arab Emirates last month.

Meanwhile, barely had England announced a tried and trusted party for their first tour of their winter than they were installed as odds-on favourites. This was perhaps understandable since England are now the No.1-ranked test team in the world and the last time they played Pakistan they won with plenty to spare amid a cheating storm.

But it also dangerously overlooks both the difficulty of winning on pitches that are likely to be less responsive than a dead horse and that Pakistan have once more astonishingly re-invented themselves as a formidable force.

To win in the United Arab Emirates, a region where most of the team have never played, England will have to bowl a gruelling amount of overs and be prepared to grind out runs.

It may involve an attritional form of cricket that they have largely done without in their recent buccaneering ascent but which served them well a decade ago in securing two epic wins in the subcontinent, in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Great expectations will be placed on the spin duo of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, both of whom will probably play in at least two of the three tests and bowl a vast number of constraining overs where nothing much happens.

For Panesar, who played the most recent of his 39 test matches against Australia at Cardiff in the first match of the 2009 Ashes series, it represents an opportunity to resurrect his international career. He can expect to play a key holding role for over after relentless over.

But Swann, too, will be the centre of attention. He is an extremely clever bowler, with acute changes of flight and pace, a master of drift - but during England's domination of India last summer there were occasional signs that opponents were quite willing to carry the attack to him and having their way. Pakistan have enough bobby-dazzlers to make Swann ponder.

There have been but four test matches before at the venues where the series will take place and only one positive result. Pakistan and South Africa fought out two arduous draws in Dubai and Abu Dhabi late last year.

A few weeks ago, Pakistan beat Sri Lanka in Dubai after being held to a draw in Abu Dhabi. Sri Lanka, however, are extremely fragile at present.

Sri Lanka forced a draw in October by making 483 in their second innings in 168 overs.

- Agencies

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