With the greatest respect to the talents of Steven Finn and Azhar Ali, the news that Pakistan legspinner Yasir Shah was a doubt for the first Test against England trumped all other injury revelations in the game’s build-up.
While Finn had a live chance of winning his battle with Mark Wood for the tourists’ third-seamer position and Ali was set to bat at number three for the hosts, neither stood to affect the result of the series opener like Shah.
The quickest player to reach 50 Test wickets for Pakistan, the 29-year-old has baffled all four of the opposing teams he has come across in his 10-match career so far.
Even before making his bow in red-ball international cricket Shah befuddled players of that arena, taking eight wickets against England in a warm-up game the last time they were in the UAE.
The back spasm that could potentially rule him out of the first Test in Abu Dhabi will no doubt be welcomed by the visitors, but it wasn’t enough to loosen Pakistan’s grip on the favourites tag.
In Shah’s place is 36-year-old left-armer Zulfiqar Babar, himself a latecomer to the international scene who has taken precious little time to settle.
Although his figures are not quite as striking as his younger ally’s, 42 scalps in 10 matches still represents a considerable threat to a side that have been spun out on numerous occasions in the past.
Like Shah, Babar has played exclusively in Asia, although he has had far better results in the UAE than in Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. He is 5/2 to be the hosts’ leading wicket taker in the first innings.
While Babar’s presence, no matter how geriatric, cannot be underestimated, England have the advantage that only two of their top-order batsmen – Cook and Ian Bell – are survivors from the 3-0 whitewash suffered here last in 2012.
How aggressors like Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes adapt to conditions with the bat, and the latter two with the ball, will be key to both the result of this match and the series.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
Fancy a flutter? Sign up today to claim up to £50 in free bets.