Pakistan v England 2011-12 January 21, 2012

A visit to Saeed's supermarket of spin

Where England glug down bottles of Chateau Sour

Thursday, 19th January As a fan of the three-day game, it was great to see England doing their bit to promote one of cricket’s classic formats. There were no wacky declarations in their homage to 1980s county cricket, but they did bring on Jonathan Trott for some joke bowling and they managed to wrap the whole thing up by the third evening. Well done, chaps.

Saeed Ajmal was their nemesis, a smiling purveyor of psychological cricket warfare and cunningly fashioned straightish ones that kind of do a little bit. On the face of it, there doesn’t appear to be much devil in the Ajmal style. If he sold his deliveries in a high street shop, the customers would soon be complaining about the lack of choice.

“Saeed, where are the teesras you said you were getting in? And these doosras here look very similar to your offbreaks over there.”

“Ah,” he would reply, with a grin, “But if you look very closely, you can see that one bends slightly this way, and one bends slightly that way.”

And it’s true. Of course, Ian Bell’s visit to Saeed’s Supermarket of Spin would end after a couple of minutes of confused browsing, with the wee fella running out, screaming, “I don’t know which one to choose! I don’t know which one to choose!”

Bell is, remember, England’s officially nominated “best player of spin”, which admittedly isn’t a great claim to fame, a bit like being the tallest of the seven dwarves or the least unpleasant Republican presidential hopeful, but still, if anyone could handle Saeed, it was going to be Ian.

That didn’t work out too well and now England’s only hope of leaving the Middle East with any semblance of dignity lies in their batsmen finding a way to identify the doosra, preferably before it hits their pad. At the moment, I doubt they’d spot it even if the ICC were to introduce a new rule requiring the umpire to hold up a card stating “Warning: Doosra!” at the appropriate moment.

They will though have some behind-the-scenes help. I don’t mean Merlin the magical bowling machine. I’m talking about the Sky commentators. We should never forget one of the fundamental principles of modern cricket, known as Murali’s Law, which states that the extent to which a spin bowler’s action is a problem is directly related to the number of opponents he has dismissed in the current series.

We have already heard Bob Willis talking ominously about long sleeves and crooked elbows and ahead of the second Test, Sky are working on a giant rubber protractor which Nasser Hussain will hold up in front of the camera every time Saeed bowls in order to give us regular readouts on his angle of arm-bend. Expect more public tastings of vintage Chateau Sour as the series goes on.

Pakistan fans, meanwhile, were having a fantastic time, watching a match in which their team started off well, carried on doing well and utterly refused to throw it away in the most painful way possible right at the end. And in between watching the clatter of English wickets, there was the added entertainment of goading Ian Botham via Twitter, a pastime which obviously I could not possibly endorse.

This metamorphosis from embarrassing shambles to casual success would be remarkable for most teams, but for Pakistan, it’s just another 12 months. With their opponents in disarray, the series is theirs for the taking. Providing they don’t do anything silly…

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England