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Pakistan are the better side, in these conditions at least, and England's batsmen have played spin bowling very poorly
George Dobell in Abu Dhabi
January 30, 2012
So, the search for excuses begins. To date, theories to explain England's losses against Pakistan have included an absent batting coach, a lack of preparation and, among a few in the media at least, a suggestion that there may be something sinister in the action of Saeed Ajmal. On Monday Monty Panesar, one of the beacons of joy in a grim episode for England, even claimed partial responsibility, saying he "let the team down in the first innings, where I didn't take wickets at a quick enough rate".
All are spurious. The key reasons for England's loss are clear: Pakistan are the better side, in these conditions at least, and England's batsmen have played spin bowling very poorly.
To focus too much on the other issues risks not confronting the problem. Yes, Graham Gooch, England's part-time batting coach, and Mark Bawden, the team's sports psychologist, departed for England as the second Test began. As Andy Flower put it, in a "perfect world", Gooch would have remained with the team throughout the tour, but budgets prohibited it on this occasion.
Gooch had been present throughout the preparation stages, however. Andy Flower, a wonderful player of spin, was also on hand. But once the game begins, there is nothing that Gooch, or anyone else, can do. As Andrew Strauss put it, no coach has ever scored the runs for a batsman. They have to do it themselves.
Panesar need feel no responsibility either. England's bowling attack remains a strength of this side and there is little more they could have done to engineer a winning position. It was the batting that let England down.
There will be no short-term fixes. England - and all aspiring England players - simply require more exposure to these conditions and these bowlers. It is a mixed blessing that they face tours to Sri Lanka and India before the year is out. They must sink or swim.
In many ways, the ECB - admirably - has already taken the medicine but are waiting for it to work. They have already arranged that young players spend more time in Asian conditions over the winter. While several potential England players are spending time in India, others have been incorporated into Sri Lankan domestic cricket. Varun Chopra, the former England U-19 captain and Warwickshire opener, scored a double-century last week. The seeds have been sown, but it will take time for them to grow.
One of the unfortunate aspects of this series has been the suggestion from a few in the media - though no one in the England camp - that there is something sinister about the doosra. There is no mileage in such excuses. Ajmal's action has been inspected and cleared by the ICC. The umpires - who, with one exception, have enjoyed a fine series to date - can report it at any time and have not done so.
There are, perhaps, parallels here with events of a generation ago. Then, the likes of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis destroyed England with their wonderful ability to harness the power of reverse swing. At the time, however, some insisted such skill could only be the result of skulduggery: accusations of ball-tampering dogged series between these sides.
Now, however, England have learned the skill, too. It is no longer seen as a dark art; it is a legitimate and necessary weapon in the armoury of any fast bowler with hopes of enjoying a successful international career. England would be wise to adopt a similar approach to the doosra. They should learn from Ajmal, not moan about him.
That will not be easy. There are, at present, very few men in the county game who can bowl the doosra with the control and pace required to even use it in a first-class match. Besides, when an English bowler emerges with such a skill, he is soon confronted by whispers about his actions. Maurice Holmes, who played a handful of games for Warwickshire in the 2011 season, now finds himself without a county contract after he was reported by English umpires. It will take a cultural shift to embrace the doosra in English cricket. Umpires, coaches and the media will all have to buy into the idea.
Perhaps England might look, too, at the nature of pitches used in the county championship. While it is accepted that pitches offer assistance to seamers, the ECB's Pitch Liaison Officers are far more stringent when a pitch is deemed to offer excessive turn. Last year Hampshire were docked eight points when their Rose Bowl pitch for the game against Nottinghamshire was found to provide too much assistance to spin bowlers. If England really want to improve against spin, perhaps such conditions, or at least more diversity in pitches, should be encouraged?
Ahead of the winter tours, Graham Thorpe, the ECB's lead batting coach, commented: "You need to know where your big shots are, your sweep shots are, but you also need to know where your release shots are, how to break your wrists, how to rotate the strike by getting deeper into the crease. Picking length is crucial against spin. We need to recognise what Asian sides do better than us and introduce it to our game."
As things stand, England have failed on all those counts. In the long term, though, that need to recognise the strengths of the Asian sides and incorporate them will be the key to progress.
In the short term, it seems Eoin Morgan will be the man to pay the price for England's poor performance. It seems highly likely that he will be replaced by Ravi Bopara in the team to play the third Test. Bopara, with his medium-pace bowling, will also partially fill the role of third seamer, allowing England to retain both spinners in the side. It is worth noting, though, that there was little spin on the pitch used for the first Test in Dubai.
The setback does not mean that Morgan's Test career is over. Ian Bell was dropped after a similar debacle in Jamaica and subsequently returned a more rounded cricketer. Morgan faces the same challenge.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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