Pakistan v England, 1st Test, Dubai, 1st day January 17, 2012

England spooked by spin and pre-match talk

On a pitch that, initially at least, offered little assistance to bowlers of any type, England's top order folded as meekly as a shy kitten in a room full of alligators

Like being mugged by a man with a plastic gun, England allowed their fears to cloud their actions on the first day of the Test series against Pakistan. Maybe it was all the pre-Test talk of new deliveries and combating spin, but England appeared paralysed by the very thought of the Pakistan slow bowlers.

Perhaps all that talk - the focus on the unknown and of Saeed Ajmal's 'new' delivery - was the problem. England appeared full of fear and treated every ball as if it may spit and fizz. In truth, most of them went straight. Quite simply, England were spooked.

On a pitch that, initially at least, offered little assistance to bowlers of any type, England's top order folded as meekly as a shy kitten in a room full of alligators. All the brave talk about their new-found confidence against spin bowling was shown to be mere bluster. Whatever their success elsewhere, they have acres of room for improvement on Asian pitches.

Such a conclusion should take nothing away from the excellence of the Pakistan attack. Quite the contrary. While a glance at the scorecard might convince the casual observer that this pitch offered plentiful help to the spinners, it was not so.

Instead, Pakistan's bowlers utilised the timeless virtues of excellent control and subtle variation. Maintaining a wonderfully nagging line, they preyed on England's insecurities as vultures might on dying lambs. In all, Pakistan's spinners claimed nine for 112 runs; not a bad effort for a first-day pitch after the opposition had chosen to bat.

Ajmal, in particular, was masterful. Utilising all his variations, an immaculate line and length and benefitting from the pressure applied by his colleagues, Ajmal claimed the best figures of his first-class career and recorded the fifth-best figures by a Pakistan bowler in Tests against England.

It wasn't just Ajmal, however. Abdur Rehman, darting the ball in at a sharp pace, increased the pressure on the batsmen with a mean opening spell that conceded only five runs in his first eight overs. Later on, he also produced the ball of the day, a beauty that pitched middle-and-leg and hit the top of off stump, to curtail an England fight back.

But it was Mohammad Hafeez who inflicted the first blow. Called into the attack in just the sixth over - an inspired piece of captaincy that exploited Hafeez's excellence against left-handers and the openers' unease against slower bowlers at the start of their innings - the offspinner took just three balls to strike. Cook, immediately out of his comfort zone, was drawn into a cut shot off a ball that was neither short enough or wide enough for the shot.

Ajmal showed up familiar frailties that suggest, for all the talk of recent times, England still have mountains to climb in Asia

Perhaps Jonathan Trott, the only England batsman not to fall to spin bowling, was unfortunate to be caught down the leg side, but just about every one of his colleagues will reflect that they had more than a hand in their own downfall. Andrew Strauss, attempting to break the shackles, was bowled as he attempted a desperate pull and, by the time Kevin Pietersen's torturous innings was ended when he missed his lunge at a straight one and Ian Bell's tentative prod was edged to the keeper, England had faced 58 balls of spin bowling and lost four wickets for four runs. Later Eoin Morgan, again trying to be positive when the situation called for calm and patience, missed an unnecessarily risky sweep to a straight ball that could have been defended with comfort.

If England were wretched, however, Pakistan were full of guile. Sometimes, Ajmal's variations were tiny - a scrambled seam here, a more slingy action there, he bowled both over and round the wicket and changed his pace subtly - but he consistently bowled straight and posed questions of the batsmen. Questions to which they had no answers. There was scarcely a poor ball all day and England, exhibiting remarkably brittle confidence for the No. 1 ranked team in Test cricket, buckled under the pressure.

Things could have been even worse from an England perspective. At 94 for 7, they were facing the prospect of a new record low score against Pakistan and that it remains 130 - once at Lahore in 1987 and once at The Oval in 1954 - was largely due to the resilience of Matt Prior and Graeme Swann.

While Swann counter-attacked intelligently, driving powerfully whenever the ball was in his area, Prior defended sensibly and showed the virtue of playing straight. This was the third occasion in his Test career in which he had scored more runs than the top six combined. No England batsman has done that more. He helped England's last three wickets add 98 runs and more than double the contribution of the top order.

Perhaps, had Adnan Akmal clung on to a thin edge offered by Swann when the batsman had just 8, the day could have been even better for Pakistan. But they will have few complaints. They played the more intelligent cricket and looked a well organised, united unit than any Pakistan team has looked for a long time.

For England this day was a wake-up call. They are not out of this series or this match. But Ajmal showed up familiar frailties that suggest, for all the talk of recent times, England still have mountains to climb in Asia.

The manner in which Pakistan began their reply - Swann's second delivery was thumped back over his head for four by Hafeez - underlined the fact that they have no such concerns.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 19, 2012, 13:29 GMT

    I agree Ind was very bad in Eng series and Eng played better all round cricket thn Ind.. Hope u rem this comment frm me @ the end of Ind-Eng test series.. "Eng is definitely a good side, bt not as gud as they r made to seem now.." I rem ur reply stating my comment as "unbiased Indian comment" - sarcastically.. I repeat.. Eng is definitely a good Test side.. bt, not as good as they seemed to b in last year.. And I am proved right now(failed inside 3 days-almost innings defeat) If this series against Pak(though its not in SC) proves me wrong(they r expected to win this series, don't they..?? after all they r world beaters and playing a team ranked well below in a MUTUAL venue), I will b the first one to admit that Eng is a better side in alien conditions..

  • Dummy4 on January 19, 2012, 13:25 GMT

    @JG2704.. I think u made a similar(as Gupta) mark abt me "to compliment opponents" in a news-column abt Clarke putting team first.. Indeed, I did.. U can check the match reports of Ind-Aus r the same comment which u were pointing to.. B4 I could reply, the comments sections was closed then.. So, I take this opportunity to reply u.. Clarke innings was "the best one" and I surely complimented his effort in my comment.. All i mentioned was his statement "putting team first" was uncalled for.. That takes no credit away frm Clarke's marvelous innings.. Coming back to Eng side, I will surely make complimentary comments abt English side.. provided they play consistently well in alien conditions.. Except BD, their all other recent series wins r in Eng's familiar conditions.. Plz dont start with Ashes.. Aus is nothing bt Eng's second home.. Jus like SL to IND.. (TBC)

  • UMAR on January 18, 2012, 15:35 GMT

    Ajmal is the best spinner right now and if English media has any problem with his bowling action than he also played the series against England in 2010............where was men............His action is perfect and he should only concentrate on his deliveries and bowling varieties............

  • John on January 18, 2012, 9:29 GMT

    @Gupta.Ankur on (January 18 2012, 03:51 AM GMT) - Most of us say that India are presently poor against seam/swing etc and the series in England and the current series with Australia prove that. England might not adapt and come unstuck big time in this series. They have losing records in the SC but have won test series in Pak and SL since 2000 and in that time have not lost a test series by more than a single test to India - probably similar to India's past record in Australia which I have never judged India by as India have in the past played well against swing/seam in England. Still maybe one day you will come on these boards and say something complimentary about England.

  • Wasiuddin on January 18, 2012, 9:26 GMT

    Beating teams in home conditions has always been the advantage for the home teams..SA, AUS and upto certain extent India(in the last decade before 2011) hav been gud travellin sides. Others have tried but they (NZ,PAK,SL,ENG & WI) dont hav much to cheer about...!!

  • James on January 18, 2012, 9:25 GMT

    Sayak: England and India may be poor travellers, but SA are poor at home: no series win for 4 years at home until the recent victory. I love also how people are championing Aus just because they beat a poor India side: do people not remember they drew a series with a poor NZ side and got hammered in the Ashes?

  • Satheesh Kumar on January 18, 2012, 9:23 GMT

    hahahaha..I am sure the England team will not even last one away series..they have played poor test cricket for the last 4 decades, never won a world cup, hardly won any away series, haven't won in India for so many decades..this No.1 rank is just a fluke and eventually it will be taken over by the two champion teams - SA or Aus..

  • Wasiuddin on January 18, 2012, 9:19 GMT

    These days all the teams seem to be good at home and not doing great when travelling. Last time when pak travelled to Eng, they lost it badly and unfortunately ended up in ridiculous match fixing saga. Similar story was with India. Teams travellin to india lose badly and india returns them the favour when they tour.

    Pak is in gud form and i hope they thrash england in this series to make up india's loss to Eng ;) after all we are neighbours..!!

  • Dummy4 on January 18, 2012, 9:08 GMT


  • Dummy4 on January 18, 2012, 8:54 GMT

    No team can be as consistent as Australia of yesteryears. Australia will lose to this Indian team by miles if they play in India. England will realize how tough it is against England. So # 1 rank is just for records, we are not going to see Australia of 2000-2004 where Hydos and Langer blasted, Gilli thrashed, Punter, Waugh brothers, Martyns made fun of opposition. McGrath and Warne came and humiliated opponents. That is not gonna happen in next 4-5 years. South Africa are not consistent, Aus lost to NZ just recently. England were thrashed by India 5-0 recently in ODIs.

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