Alastair Cook has called England the underdogs ahead of the first Test against Pakistan, as the side go into the contest on Tuesday without Steven Finn, who has a foot injury, reports Tom Sizeland from Abu Dhabi.
The captains gave their final press conferences on Monday, and while England will be without Finn, Pakistan could be without Yasir Shah, who also pulled up in training on the eve of the contest and is now a doubt.
‘Its a bitter blow for him,’ said Cook on the injury to Finn. ‘Over the last 12 months he’s made huge strides back to where he wants to be. He was absolutely in contention, especially after that warm up game. A lot of people are pushing for contention and it’s a hard job trying to choose the right 11.’
While Finn wasn’t a shoo-in, spinner Shah was for Pakistan, who has been a lethal performer for the hosts recently. ‘It will be a big blow for us,’ said captain Misbah ul Haq. ‘But we’re hoping he will be fine. He’s a key player especially in these conditions, so it is a concern but we’ll hope for the best.’
‘He’s a fantastic bowler who many of us have not faced,’ Cook added. ‘He’s had a good start to Test cricket. There’s always a lot of video analysis, but you’ve just got to get out there and face him.’
Given Pakistan’s record in the UAE, in which they haven’t ever lost a series solely played there, and considering they thrashed England 3-0 the last time they met there, Misbah’s side are favourites, and Cook is relishing that challenge.
‘We’re as ready as we can be,’ he said. ‘We are underdogs but that’s a great position for the side to be in. The talent and the character in the dressing room is great and I’m very confident.’
‘Every tour seems to be the toughest test, especially away from home,’ he added. ‘I’m really excited about what’s going to happen. We’ve got lots of options and we’ve got a side who’s willing to take on that challenge.’
Misbah believes this will give the English more motivation, but he said his side are more determined than ever, and he hinted that they will target inexperienced England opener and spinner Moeen Ali.
‘Their spin attack is not experienced, but their performances have been good. So you can’t take it easy, you have to give respect to the bowlers,’ he said. ‘We have to target Moeen Ali. He can be destructive and plays spin well, so we have special plans against him.’
‘I think they will be more prepared this time,’ he continued. ‘We need to focus and improve on our own performances. We beat them 3-0 so it will be easier for them to bounce back.’