Ed Hawkins previews the three-Test series and argues that England have a mountain to climb if they are to return triumphant...
"There is no greater test of technique and nerve for English batsmen than playing the Asian sides in their backyard"
Back 1-1 series draw at 4.67/2
There is not much to like about Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah if you are of reserved English extraction. Opulence, man-man fakery and stomach-churning excess are not, typically, what Englanders go abroad for.
So Alastair Cook and his homespun brethren may feel a little uncomfortable over the next few weeks. Their three-Test series against Pakistan begins on Tuesday and they face a hell of a task to fit in.
Indeed, when in Dubai and Abu Dhabi they may be best served by looking past the fool's gold and focussing on the mountain ranges to the west. They will have to scale a couple of them to return triumphant.
Pakistan are as short as 1.8810/11 for a series victory. England are 4.03/1 and the drawn series is 3.613/5.
Those prices are justified when the history books are perused. Pakistan have lost only one series in the UAE out of nine - and that was to Australia in 2002. Since it became a regular base in 2010 they have won three and drawn four.
England were boffed three-zip in 2012 and they have lost four of their last five away series against Pakistan.
There is no greater test of technique and nerve for English batsmen than playing the Asian sides in their backyard. Reverse swing and wrist spin on parched pitches in dry, unrelenting heat have proved tough to master.
It is alien. Just as Australia succumbed to seam and swing in England in the summer, England must now face their own uncomfortable challenge. Their own Everest.
Can they pass it? It is tempting to reckon that that they are value. Indeed, a case can be built.
Their recent form on the Asian sub-continent is good. In 2012 they earned a creditable 1-1 draw in Sri Lanka and then, a mighty achievement. They came from one down to beat India 2-1. Eight of the squad that won there remain.
But two chief questions for the tourists are: how will they play the leggie, Yasir Shah, and can James Anderson and Stuart Broad be effective?
Yasir is a dangerous opponent. No Pakistan bowler has been quicker to 50 wickets. Some feat considering the talent that has preceded him. Yasir took eight wickets in his only appearance against England - for the PCB XI in a warm-up nearly four years ago.
Mahela Jayawardene has been enlisted to assist England's batsmen. But it will take more than a couple of days of tutorials to right learned, ingrained behaviour.
Yasir will be licking his fingers at the prospect of running through a vulnerable underbelly of Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler. That is a major worry considering how often England have needed rescuing from their middle order.
Much hinges on the form of Ian Bell. While we can expect runs from Cook and Joe Root either side, the Warwickshire man has to shore up the top order. Unfortunately his record in Asia since 2008 (not including Bangladesh) is not good. He averages just 22 in ten Tests.
Anderson and Broad must also buck significant downward trends. Anderson has a career average of 27 and a strike rate of 57. In Asia those figures leap to 32 and 67. Broad's go from 29 and 56 to 43 and 84.
In the 2012 series, however, Anderson and Broad were part of a superb England bowling effort. They restricted Pakistan to first-innings scores of 338, 257 and 99 and were in command for much of the series in the field.
The problem, inevitably, was with the bat. They were knocked over for 192, 160, 72, 141 and 252 in five out of six innings. Spin, of course, played its part while there is also a nagging feeling that all was not well in the camp with Kevin Pietersen at his bombastic worst.
Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar dovetailed superbly in that contest. Can Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid be as effective? It is unlikely considering the latter pair are vastly inexperienced by comparison.
Moeen, at least, will offer some stability to England's top order. He looks to have seen off Alex Hales's challenge for the opening berth.
England may be wise to consider James Taylor instead of Bairstow. Another key decision is whether to pick a third spinner in Samit Patel or Steven Finn, who was excellent against Pakistan A.
Pakistan have a production line of talent which ensures they will do each discipline effectively. Younis Khan (yes, he's still going at 37), Misbah-ul-Haq, the skipper, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq have been run machines in the last two years.
With the ball, pacemen Wahab Riaz, Rahat Ali and Junaid Khan are potent. Yasir and his spinning cohort Zulfiqar Babar will expect to be working through the middle order when they are required.
So a series victory looks beyond England. But they should be committed and capable of attritional play, despite their belief in an attacking style. New coach Trevor Bayliss could give new ideas and resolve.
A 1-1 draw at 4.67/2 may be the best they can hope for. A 2-1 Pakistan win at 6.411/2 and 2-0 home win at 5.39/2 will also be popular.
Back 1-1 series draw at 4.67/2
Ed Hawkins P/L
To £10 level stakes (unless otherwise stated), based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate.
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