England v Pakistan, 1st npower Test, Trent Bridge, 2nd day July 30, 2010

Pakistan bat with eyes wide shut

What does a Pakistan batsman think when he takes guard? Does he think at all?

What does a Pakistan batsman think when he takes guard? Does he fancy himself to score a fighting hundred in testing conditions? Does he think of battening down the hatches, and standing strong in the face of swing, seam, bouncers, spin and even boos from the partisan English crowd? Does he think at all?

Based on evidence from this English summer, the average Pakistani batsman retains the anxiety of a first-timer at the top of the Cresta Run, faced with the prospect of hurtling down an ice-tunnel face down and experiencing G-forces measuring up to five. The key is to keep the eyes open and not panic. As at Lord's, then Headingley, and now Trent Bridge, Pakistan's batsmen have played as if they were blindfolded.

It was clear in the morning that all the batsmen would to fight against the twin threats of the bowlers and the overcast conditions, with the latter helping the former gain incisive movement. Mohammad Asif clubbed the two together perfectly to hasten England's downfall in the morning, as six wickets fell for 23 runs in 75 minutes.

Only eight overs remained before lunch. Salman Butt should have known what to expect, which ball to leave alone, when to go on the offensive and push the opponent back. Still he allowed the new-ball pair of Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson to dominate him. Broad did not waste time in firing in a bouncer, barely seen in the England innings, which hit the Pakistan captain on the head and softened him up. At the Radcliffe Road End Anderson put doubts in the Pakistanis' mind by swerving the ball both ways.

The ball that eventually claimed Butt - it failed to straighten and shaped away that wee bit - was a delivery good openers never go chasing. Butt was overpowered, and like a robot opened up and nicked one. He was not the only one. His partner Imran Farhat, who hit some powerful shots including a bold hook, was set up nicely by Anderson, bowling from the round the stumps.

Farhat should have been aware of the angle. He would've known from facing his own fast men in the nets how they sell the dummy to left-handers: usually they would bowl wide off the bowling crease and angle it towards the pads. Inadvertently the batsman would play for the inswinger and open his shoulders but to his horror would find the ball moving out at the last instant before taking an edge most times. Farhat should have done what he eventually did after getting out: left the ball alone.

It was the same with the Akmal brothers - Umar and Kamar - and the newcomers Azhar Ali and Umar Amin. Each of these gents hung limp bats while the bowlers laughed their way to victory. Let us not point out their inexperience, as players new to Test cricket always dream of doing deeds their heroes did when they were young themselves. To point out a recent example, Steve Smith plucked Australia out of a dangerous position to help set a challenging target on the third day in Headingley when Pakistan's bowlers had dominated the specialist batsmen earlier in the morning. Suddenly from a winning position Pakistan had been keeping their fingers crossed by the end of the day. Smith set the hearts racing with his impulsive shotmaking, because he realised the only way to turn the screw was go aggressive.

Likewise Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Aamer realised, even for a brief period late in the afternoon, that with a little bit of patience and pluck they could score runs comfortably. Soon they understood Stuart Broad was not as potent as Anderson and Steven Finn, so they could actually take advantage of that. And even when they lost their wickets, their reactions showed something that the top-order had failed to grasp. Both men knew that those had been balls to leave alone.

Reading the bowler, anticipating something that is going to happen, waiting till the last moment before reacting, letting the ball go away rather than chase it - these are skills batsmen learn every day in the nets. Coaches stress the same during every throwdown. Ultimately it is for the batsmen to play according to the situation.

Bowlers understand it, and expect it as well. "It is very rare you roll through teams," Jimmy Anderson, England's player of the day said about Pakistan's downfall. "They played pretty well towards the end and ball got soft and the wicket's quite slow. If you stick in there you can hang around for a period of time."

Salman Butt had a different take on Pakistan's sorry state and thought Anderson & Co. took advantage of the conditions. "It is okay to say batsmen make mistakes but the runs were not coming as well," he said. "It shows how immaculate the line and lengths of the bowlers have been and the conditions have been very helpful to seam bowling. If they land the bowl in good areas then there is every kind of help for them."

It could have a very different story for Pakistan if their fielders had snatched the opportunities on the first day the way England did on Friday. Equally it could've have been another story for Pakistan if their batsmen had learnt from their past mistakes and put to use the basics they had honed for years before coming to international cricket.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

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