England v Pakistan, 3rd npower Test, The Oval, 1st day August 18, 2010

Fluent Prior masks batting frailties


A scrap is what England have secretly been yearning for all series, and a scrap is what they are in right now, after a wasteful first-day performance at The Oval allowed Pakistan to claim the upper hand in a manner not dissimilar to their incredible heist against Australia at Headingley last month.

That England pulled themselves out of a nosedive at 94 for 7, where the Aussies had continued to plummet to 88 all out, owed everything to a restorative stand between Matt Prior and Stuart Broad, two feisty cricketers with the sort of mongrel streak that will be invaluable Down Under later this year. But the fact that England allowed themselves to get into such a mess in the first place will be of far greater concern to the team strategists.

"Any time you win the toss on what looks like a good batting deck, it's not the ideal position you'd want to be in," admitted Prior at the close. "It wasn't expected, and we're obviously below par, but to see the side to a semi-reasonable score was a real good feeling. Everything depends on how we come in in the morning. We have huge amount of belief in our bowlers, that they can come back, fight hard, and get us back in the game by sticking to our plans."

For all Prior's confidence, it's not as if the collapse came as a complete surprise, because Pakistan's seam bowlers have been exemplary all summer long. Mohammad Asif churns through his overs in a manner that somehow comes across as both menacing and long-suffering all at the same time, while Mohammad Amir and now the debutant Wahab Riaz zip and sling their offerings with sharp hostility from an unfamiliar left-arm line. Backed up at last by catching that, with the honourable exception of Mohammad Yousuf, was befitting of a Test match, they caught England cold under the same sort of cloud cover that had scuppered their own ambitions at Trent Bridge and Edgbaston.

"By the end of the day it looked a good wicket," added Prior, "but we've seen all series that the minute the clouds come over it seems a different proposition altogether - seaming around, and nipping a bit quicker. But this unit is all about the team. It's been Colly [Collingwood] in the past, Morgs [Morgan] in the past, KP plenty of times. We now have a team that, in any situation, someone will put their hand up and perform."

Impressively though Prior and Broad fought, however, the current scenario is somewhat different to the one that England had envisaged when talking up the likelihood of a stronger Pakistan challenge in this match. The Oval is renowned as the best batting track in the country - "It is a batting paradise and I have heard a lot about it," said an enthusiastic Wahab at the close - and if this game was to be a challenge, then it was surely going to be a high-scoring battle of wits between two attacks unused to the conditions conspiring against them.

Instead, England's innings was a continuation of the same old frailties that have been largely masked by the ineptitude of Pakistan's top-order. They have passed 300 only once in the series so far, and that total of 354 at Trent Bridge owed everything to the only truly substantial partnership posted by either side - Morgan and Collingwood's 219-run stand for the fifth wicket. The rest have dealt largely in scraps, not least Alastair Cook, whose much-vaunted temperament looked as ropey as his technique in an agonising seven-ball stay this morning. In fretting about what might happen to their excellent bowlers when the sun shines in Brisbane, the focus has been deflected from an uncomfortably unproductive top six.

Aside from Cook, everyone has had their moments in this series - Morgan made his century in Nottingham, Pietersen made a chancy 80 in Birmingham, Jonathan Trott chipped in with a brace of fifties in the same game while Strauss has shown fluent form without kicking on - but partnerships have been a rarity. It says something about the state of an apparently one-sided series that a debutant such as Wahab could bound into his end-of-play press conference with the same sort of confidence that he showed in his run-up, and offer next to no deference to a side that has put his team-mates on the canvas with more than a day to spare in consecutive games.

"The way we have been bowling throughout this summer, we have bowled to the Australians and to England, and none of the top order has scored," said Wahab. "England is a good team but today was our day. My confidence level was high always, we bowled well and we got them. Today I just wrapped them up."

The calculated aggression with which Yasir Hameed relaunched his Test career ensured that Pakistan did not finish the day as they had started too many of their previous innings this series, grinding through the overs with close catchers lurking in every corner, even though James Anderson's late breakthrough did reawaken the possibility of further batting jitters on the second morning. Nevertheless, that ought not to be England's most pressing concern right now, because - aside from one blip on that third day at Edgbaston - they know they can trust their attack to fulfil their duties. Right at this moment, the same cannot be said of the batting.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jim1207 on August 19, 2010, 23:25 GMT

    @Chris_P: First ever official test was Eng vs Aus. But first ever test was Eng vs USA in 1844, I guess. Give a try and see if you don't know. But that doesn't make USA as prestigious cricket nation now. I do not want to downplay Ashes to even 1% but to tell the truth and to eliminate the notions, first ever cricket match did not involve Australia. Ashes is important because it was the first, greatest, oldest rivalry still thriving. And traditionally, Aus and Eng people like to go to cricket grounds and watch Test cricket. Its subcontintental traidition to watch Test cricket in TV, or workplace or home or even in shops. Not having attendance for test cricket in subcontinent never means people don't watch, still and always test cricket is the best for all people, little difference is that people here give importance to all formats of cricket, basically if its cricket, if its Ashes too, nothing else matters. Some people think that our people loves fast food cricket which is not true.

  • Jim1207 on August 19, 2010, 23:00 GMT

    @Davo47: Yeah, there is more to that from being good batsman or bowler. Ponting captained but did he bowl well whereas...... most people behaved well ON the field and also behaved well when team is losing that match whereas.......... Under the guise of playing hard and being Australianism, Ponting has often acted silly bringing different bad dimension to Australianism. Here the talk is about Ashes and there is no need for you to bring other guys. We are not just sensitive, you are being sensitive to jump into every opportunity to tell disgraceful points about other players or other country fans. I agree that Ashes need lot of coverage even for a year, but it would be good to have so if Gilly, McG, Haydos are in the team. It is bit too much to talk so much about Ashes with players who are struggling. I agree that for fans of Eng and Aus, it is very important. So coverage is justified. Lets hope these players add substance to the series instead of another dull whitewash down under.

  • Jim1207 on August 19, 2010, 22:44 GMT

    @Davo47: I agree historically cricket WAS Aus vs Eng. Cricket was Ashes. Cricket IS NOT Ashes anymore like Ponting not being a good captain anymore without great players. You can always say the stats of Ponting's captaincy with great players to prove your point, but historically people would recognize how good he is a captain. And, Rankings come into picture not to show 100% but at least 50% about the truth, The truth is Aus has not been playing well for past few years and Ponting's average for past 3 years is around 40 in Tests, add to that his average in India is 20. I agree with all his shortcomings he has achieved as one of greatest batsman of the era, but if you want to drag others to lift Punter, we will have to tell these truths to bring things to level and some people down to Earth again.

  • sachin_vvsfan on August 19, 2010, 15:23 GMT

    Wow now the debate is heading to sachin vs ponting. @Neil Simpson we enjoy the ashes as much as you do. Beating pakistan in major tournaments is as good as winning the tournament for Indians and same goes for pak. However i believe the same is not true for Aussies.For them england is just one of those teams to beat in any tournament. But the English players always go overboard when it comes to Ashes (awarding MBE, 1.5 yrs long term preparation for Ashes). I will follow all the 5 games this season as England is much improved side now. My bet Aussies will make it 2-1. @davo: Mike_Donald has summed it up.Of late Ponting has been giving too many chances for his detractors(including me). Lets see how he fares in India and in the Ashes. Hope he wont hang his boots after Ashes. :)

  • thebrownie on August 19, 2010, 15:08 GMT

    @Davo - I am a cricket fan first, then a big supporter of Indian cricket. I was one among the crowd to stand and applaud the Pak team in Chennai, 1999 when they won the test match. And I closely followed the 2005 Ashes: That was played by a top notch Aussie Team and a fighting English Team. And I have no problem with that series being billed as one of the best ever, although for me the best would be the 2001 Ind vs Aus series.

    The articles (mainly from the English side) writing about Ashes 4 years down the line, when their team is playing poorly against average sides, annoys me as much as the Tendulkar is better than Ponting or Sehwag is better than Gilly comments.

    @SurlyCynic : I haven't seen any one talking about Ind vs Pak way ahead of the series, esp when there are other test matches to be played.

  • tanstell87 on August 19, 2010, 12:29 GMT

    Wel d Aussies r going to trash d English once again....England doesnt stand chance against d world champions...England with mediocre batting wil b ripped apart by d Aussies....India wil trash Aussies & Aussies wil thrash England..!

  • dummy4fb on August 19, 2010, 12:20 GMT

    You ask any Australian or any Englishman who they want to play the most and they will say one or the other. Sri Lanka, India, Windies, South Africa whoever, whatever, they are not as important in these two countries as Ashes test matches. FACT not opinion........... one or two people on here may suggest its not an important rivalry, generally i bet they are Indian who think that because there has been a few racist Australian cricketers and a few arrogant Indians, who once upon a time had a series that was close doesnt mean you have a rivalry to match one that has lasted 150 years, in both test and first class cricket. Thats like saying that Eng vs Germany, or Eng vs Scotland rivalries (that were born out of historical contests) are not as important as the rivalry between say Spain and Holland because once they played a game that resembled more of a fight!!!!. Rivalry = History......what history is more illustrious than England vs Australia!!

  • Mike_Donald on August 19, 2010, 9:44 GMT

    Well Davo47 needs to understand that Ponting that 4 'once in a generation' players in his playing 11...viz. McGrath, Warne, Gilchrist, and himself. The team would have won as many matches as they did even if Gillespe had been the captian. Please don't compare Ponting to Tendulkar....it's agreed that Ponting has been better than Tendulkar for few seasons...but then just think would Bradman have rated Ponting higher over Tendulkar...hell NO!....there are some jealous guys like Barry Richards who definitely would.

  • shaantanu on August 19, 2010, 8:36 GMT

    @davo:theres more to being a good cricketer than simply batting and bowling.ponting has been a better captain......u dont want to offend obviously sensitive feelings.it seems u r more sensitive abt ppl calling someone(the one whose name u dont want to take)better than ponting.....of course theres more to being a good cricketer.a good cricketer sud be able to handle his fame n conduct himself as a gud ambassador of the game both on n off the field.which obviously ponting fails to do on most occasions....as for being a better captain losing 2 ashes(the be all n end all for u)consecutively bears testimony to that.count out the 2-0 series loss to india and the loss to pakistan recently.and the loss to SA at home.give ponting a weaker team n he fails(thts a good captain for u)

  • SurlyCynic on August 19, 2010, 8:33 GMT

    Why all the bitter comments from the subcontinent about the 'status' of the Ashes series? I agree that journalists sometimes look too far ahead and ignore the current series, but you don't hear people in England or Aus questioning why the Ind/Pak series are so important to those involved.....

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