Moeen Ali
Moeen Ali will open the batting alongside captain Alastair Cook in England's first Test against Pakistan. Getty Images

Having successfully regained the Ashes with victory over Australia this summer, England now face another of cricket’s toughest challenges when traveling to take on Pakistan. On Tuesday, Alastair Cook’s team begin a three-match Test series in the United Arab Emirates, where Pakistan have been unbeatable since relocating their home matches there in 2010.

It is now seven Test series undefeated for Pakistan in those five years, losing only three of 18 matches. And England know all too well the difficulty of facing Pakistan in the steamy spin-friendly conditions. On their last visit to the UAE in early 2012, England were also on a high having beaten Australia in Australia the previous year, as well as claiming a series victory over India. But against Pakistan England soon came back to earth after losing all three Tests.

Yet, just as against Australia a few months ago, England captain Cook is optimistic of springing a surprise.

"We’re probably underdogs,” he said, per the England and Wales Cricket Board’s website. “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 realize that -- but I’m very confident in those guys.”

England’s biggest selection dilemmas have been over who to field alongside Cook at the top of the batting order and how to incorporate a bowling lineup to flourish in the conditions in the UAE. For the first Test in Abu Dhabi, England hope to solve both by promoting spin bowler Moeen Ali to open the batting.

Ali and the rest of England’s batsman will surely feel more positive about their chances should Pakistan’s own spinner Yasir Shah fail to regain fitness in time. The 29-year-old only made his Test debut last year, but has been a sensation, taking 61 wickets in his first 10 matches. However, the leg spinner is a major doubt after suffering a back injury in training.

For Pakistan, who have won series in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka this year, it would be another major blow, having already lost top-order batsman Azhar Ali with an infected toe. Ali’s absence has opened the door for an unlikely comeback to the Test fold for Shoaib Malik. The 33-year-old, once Pakistan’s short-lived captain, has not played a Test match since Pakistan’s tour of England in 2010. But after impressing in the One-Day and Twenty20 series against Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe this year, Malik is now keen to prove he can still deliver the goods in the Test format.

“I will try my best to maintain the performances I have given in T20s and one-day matches but Tests are different and more challenging,” he said, according to Pakistan newspaper Dawn. “Of course, it is challenging to play the longer forms but I have not missed any first class season and being a professional I know how to cut down that pressure.”

Pakistan vs. England Test schedule
1st Test: Tuesday, Oct. 13 to Saturday, Oct. 17 (Play begins at 2 a.m. EDT)
2nd Test: Thursday, Oct. 22 to Monday Oct. 26 (Play begins at 2 a.m. EDT)
3rd Test: Sunday, Nov. 1 to Thursday, Nov. 5 (Play begins at 1 a.m. EDT)

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