George Dobell
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Senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Pakistan v England 2011-12

Spin the crux of England's problems

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

Comments: 73 | Text size: A | A

Eoin Morgan loses his off stump to Abdur Rehman, Pakistan v England, 2nd Test, Abu Dhabi, 4th day, January 28, 2012
It seems Eoin Morgan will be the man to pay the price for England's poor performance © AFP
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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 ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Ahsan_Shere on (February 2, 2012, 14:52 GMT)

Guys! It isn't required to be great if you claim no.1 spot or awarded no.1 spot, you just have to be better than all others & England were for the last 18-24 months so they deserved to be ranked best in the world. They beat No.1 side 4-0. If your opinion is England shouldn't be no.1 because of straight defeats at the hands of Pak then India should also didn't deserve to be no.1 when they were thrashed in England last summer but they were, if you think Aussie should be on top spot they also lost 3 tests by innings against England at HOME in Ashes 2010 so they also didn't deserve to be no.1. Pakistan didn't do any thing in 2010 to gain no.1 spot in mid 2011. SA drew against Pak & India, no series win for them in 2010-2011 season. Now tell me whom you could award No.1 spot on August 31st 2011. Now read line 1 of this para. Btw I'm Pakistani!

Posted by VillageBlacksmith on (February 2, 2012, 9:58 GMT)

hey guys 'n gals, calm down,,, its not England who voted themselves No 1..!! Its the official ICC ranking they have achieved by playing all in front of them for the last 2ish years... inc soundly beatinbg Oz home and away... if u all think England are so bad... then how bad does it make all the others??! credit where it is due and dont be so mealy-mouthed... Cheers.

Posted by   on (February 1, 2012, 14:23 GMT)

The principal reason for England's batting debacle was the failure of its batsmen to deal with the Pakistani spinners successfully.They failed to read the doosras and the shuttle variations in the deliveries of the Pakistani spinners.They were even shackled by the straight forward off spin of Mohamed Hafeez

Posted by Grayark on (February 1, 2012, 13:06 GMT)

I am a dual national UK/ Pak. I love both my countries equally.

After reading numerous articles and subsequent comments, what I am not seeing here is the realisation about who the real winner in this series is.

The winner is Cricket. Two opponents clashing with contrasting styles and both fighting to the proverbial death. It was not an easy ride for Pakistan. England showed them why they are number 1 ranked. If at anytime Pakistan slipped for an instant, England would have been away with the match. The battles between ball and bat were some of the most engaging I have seen in a while.

In every match there is a winner and a loser and teams fortunes ebb and flow. Why not put aside petty jibes at each other and appreciate the 8 days of pure and engaging cricket that both sides paid for with blood, sweat and tears.

Well done Pakistan.... England you are a world class side, look forward to seeing the lions roaring back into form.

Posted by JM_RSA on (February 1, 2012, 8:01 GMT)

@Joninnorwich - I wouldnt be so sure that you will beat SA in England. SA comprise of a better seam bowling unit than England. The batting is equal. Only department where Eng is ahead is the spinner (Swann vs Tahir). But then SA play spin way better than England. So that seriers will be very close. I would give it to SA 2-0 or 2-1 just like the last tour.

Posted by RandyOZ on (January 31, 2012, 20:29 GMT)

how can young english (sic) batsmen learn to play against spin when no one in england can bowl it?

Posted by RandyOZ on (January 31, 2012, 20:26 GMT)

Is there a worse player of spin in world cricket than Ian Bell? I mean he has no idea, hes lucky to nick a ball. A quick youtube search will show Strauss is not much better. It really isnt surprising that the Unted XI import so many players when you see englishmen play cricket.

Posted by WeeBee on (January 31, 2012, 20:18 GMT)

HeHe! You know ENglish cricketers use GPS to figure out how much they ran or walked on training and also during matches. They wear cameras on helmets while batting, theywatch many videos of their opponents, THEN WHERE IS THE RESULT OF ALL THIS EXPENSES.! in few days they wont be number one , then they would realize that they should go back to drawing board instead of getting into more technology. hee

Posted by JG2704 on (January 31, 2012, 19:06 GMT)

Personally I like the fact that our Lions are touring SL and Bangladesh. The Bangladesh tour was not great results wise but will hopefully be a good learning curve. A few more 3 or 4 day games on these tours wouldn't go a miss either. Also it might be an idea if some of the England players could get to play a month or so of domestic cricket somewhere on the subcontinent

Posted by JG2704 on (January 31, 2012, 18:59 GMT)

@ajmal1988 on (January 31 2012, 01:00 AM GMT) Do you really think that the second innings from England was complacency? Anything but IMO. Obviously we have to give great credit to Ajmal and co for that inns bowling and the 2 in the 1st test but the English batsmen looked scared of playing. I'm now thinking the England batting failure was a mental thing as much as a technical thing

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