Modern T20 cricket has become fast-paced and aggressive, but playing in the UAE is still like going back to the old style of cricket - giving yourself time at the top of the order, and teeing off at the back end if you have wickets in hand. The way teams used to play 50-over cricket in the past is the sort of approach you need to take for T20s in the UAE.
If a team gets to 180 here, it's normally because someone in the top three got 80 or 90. England beat Pakistan in T20Is a few times in the UAE in 2010 and 2012, and I remember Kevin Pietersen almost batting throughout the innings in those games.
Pakistan have had so much T20I success here because the style of play really suits them. A total of 150-170 is in their safe zone. They don't want to be playing a game where the par score is 200.
In the UAE, power-hitting gets nullified almost completely, because rarely are you going to get a game where five batters are going to get quick 30s and 40s to get to a team total of 180-200. Nowhere else in the world are the T20 pitches of the kind there are in the UAE. Even in Pakistan, you largely can take the bowlers on from ball one.
The way you get 180 here if one of your batters becomes an anchor and bats through the innings while the others bat around him. If you're really brave, you can have two anchors who can bat for long and raise the run rate towards the end. The combination of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan can work in Pakistan's favour in this case.
This means player roles will need to be properly defined at this World Cup. You need to identify a couple of players who will bat through the innings. Batters like Dawid Malan, Babar or Virat Kohli will be extremely important if you want to get to 180. You'll only get there if somebody in the top three bats more or less the whole innings and scores 70-90 runs, after which the power-hitters can contribute the sort of 20s or 30s that make a difference.
Even in ODIs and other cricket in the UAE, you need anchors, because come the last five or six overs, you must have enough wickets and firepower to take the opposition on. In T20s, you cannot risk going big in the first six overs and then carrying on in the middle overs and losing a bunch of wickets. You don't want to get sucked into thinking you need to get 180 or 190 to be in the game and then end up getting bowled out for 120.
On surfaces like these, if power-hitters walk in to bat in the middle overs, they find the ball is not coming onto the bat and it's not easy to start hitting right away. And it's not as if Nos. 8 and 9 will easily clear the fence when the ball won't come onto the bat and quite a lot of overs of spin are being bowled. Most teams have power-hitters and lower-order players who like the ball coming onto the bat. They like to play big shots against faster bowlers rather than face spinners, especially left-arm spinners bowling into the stumps.
When it comes to bowling in the UAE, if you're a spinner, you need to bowl quick, and if you're a fast bowler, you need to bowl more cutters into the pitch.
In the powerplay, you need somebody who can bowl as straight as possible. In the PSL, we saw James Faulkner was a handful, because even though he doesn't have a lot of pace, he can bowl pretty straight into the stumps with a bit of swing. It's easier to handle extreme pace in the UAE when the ball is not swinging. It's more difficult for batters if you slow the pace and bowl into the stumps, especially in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
It's great if you have spinners bowling in the powerplay. For Pakistan, left-arm spinner Imad Wasim can swing the ball into the stumps, from around the wicket into the right-hander. Right-handers find him difficult to face because they have no angles to play with. Because the ball is not coming onto the bat, you can't hit him straight - that's a difficult shot. And because he's quite flat and quick, going across the line is also challenging.
Spinners who will bowl quickly will be the difficult ones to face; not the ones who will try to give the ball flight. This was also a reason why Pakistan won so many Test series in the UAE. The Pakistani spinners bowled into the pitch while the rest bowled up and down, with flight. That doesn't necessarily work in the UAE. Afghanistan's spinners, like Rashid Khan, are going to be a handful because they bowl quick and pretty flat.
I'd say India and Pakistan are the sides to beat in this World Cup. You can't get better preparation than India's players got by playing the IPL here. Pakistan also got so good in the UAE when they played here regularly.
With the ICC preparing the pitches for the World Cup, the tracks might be a bit different to what we normally get here. We saw this in the last T20 World Cup as well in the 50-over World Cup in England, where everybody thought we'd get 300 per game, but the wickets weren't conducive to that kind of scoring. However, I don't really think the wickets in the UAE will change much.
Pakistan's recent form isn't what it was in the 2016-18 period, so any optimism is naturally checked. Former coach Mickey Arthur's T20I record record was good and Pakistan were trending upwards in white-ball cricket during his tenure. Imad with the new ball, and Hasan Ali with the old one, did their thing, while Shadab Khan was also in form in the UAE between 2016 and 2018. Pakistan were fairly decent at the 2019 World Cup as well.
If this World Cup were taking place anywhere else in the world, Pakistan wouldn't be among the favourites, but the UAE suits their T20 cricket to an absolute tee. You have Babar and Rizwan at the top of the order to anchor the innings - in the UAE, if you get 140, you're not out of the game, unlike in many other places. But Pakistan's middle order is a problem. If the top order fails, you need somebody in the middle who can play spin.
These conditions aren't exactly England's cup of tea but it would be foolish to expect they won't adapt. They will have to rethink their strategy. They have some players who can play spin well and, if you get in, especially in Sharjah, you can impose yourself.
England have based all their white-ball cricket on power-hitting. If they get to 220, the opposition, in normal circumstances, will get 180. Now in the UAE, if you're getting to 160 and you're letting the opposition get some runs in the early overs, you'll struggle. I think England's batting will sort itself out, but they will require their bowlers to have specific skills to bowl well. They will need to defend six or seven per over in certain scenarios. They won't have the comfort of defending 180 or 200.
All this might sound like bad news for world champions West Indies, but a huge innings from one of their big hitters can have an enormous effect. Yes, the conditions might not suit them, but if Chris Gayle or Andre Russell go berserk for three to four overs, it will make a massive difference in a low-scoring game. That's why West Indies, with their high-risk game, are still very dangerous and it's why they have two world titles in the format.