Pakistan v England, 2nd Test, Abu Dhabi, 2nd day January 26, 2012

England pair defy Pakistan before cracks reappear

While Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott were together, England's batting problems seemed to have receded - but then Pakistan invoked their first-Test demons once again
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Sometimes it is only once something has gone that we appreciate its true value. So it was with Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott's partnership on the second day in Abu Dhabi. It would be stretching the point to suggest that batting was a straightforward pastime while the pair were together, but it certainly looked a great deal easier than it did once they were separated.

For a while it appeared Cook and Trott would bat England into a position of dominance. The pair stayed together for 50 overs and added 139 runs. England were just 91 behind with nine wickets in hand. Perhaps, people whispered, England had learned to combat Asian conditions?

We should have known better. Suddenly, as if shaking England out of their dream, Abdur Rehman produced a beautiful delivery to account for Trott and, a little while later, Cook was defeated by a Saeed Ajmal doosra.

Cook's departure sparked a collapse of three wickets for nine runs in 10 overs. England's middle order, for the third time in three innings this series, was exposed by Pakistan's excellent spin attack.

It would be wrong, though, to suggest that England threw away the initiative. The truth is that Pakistan wrestled it from them. Ajmal, in particular, was masterful. He bowled every bit as well as he had in Dubai and could have dismissed every one of the England batsmen on numerous occasions.

But Cook had, at least, shown England the way to prosper in these conditions. He played straight, he used his long stride to negate the spin where possible and he was patient. Kevin Pietersen, by contrast, showed how not to do it. His attempt to whip Ajmal across the line was simply reckless. "Oops," he tweeted later.

Cook's batting is largely about denial. He denies himself cross-batted strokes, he denies himself lavish strokes outside the off stump and he denies himself the indulgence of worrying about his strike-rate. While Pietersen, all too often, gives his wicket away, Cook demands a high price.

It is perhaps not pretty. But England have had plenty of more naturally talented men - the likes of Mark Ramprakash and Graeme Hick - who could time the ball sweetly but tended to fail when the pressure mounted. Cook offers substance more than style. And it is substance that wins Tests.

"Cook had shown England the way to prosper in these conditions ... Pietersen, by contrast, showed how not to do it. His attempt to whip Ajmal across the line was simply reckless. 'Oops,' he tweeted later"

Besides, we tend to use the 'talent' word loosely. If talent is just about hand-eye coordination and the ability to play pleasing strokes, than Cook is an also-ran. If it is about mental strength, determination and fortitude, then Cook has talent aplenty.

There were similarities between this innings and Cook's debut century against England in Nagpur in 2006. He hardly attempted the sweep, he rarely came down the pitch and he never allowed a scoreless period to concern him. As he put it afterwards, he stuck to his game plan and it worked.

His partnership with Trott also reminded England that batting can become easier if they can only survive their first half-hour at the crease. Trott, in particular, struggled in the early stages of his innings. But, with Cook soaking up most of Ajmal's early overs and Trott finding his feet, England began to settle.

"It's never easy to get to 20," Cook said afterwards, "and it is always hard work for new batsmen. But, if you can stay there long enough, you do get used to the conditions. You do start to feel more at ease. When a batting partnership gets going, it can prove hard to break."

But break it Pakistan did. While Cook reckons he can read Ajmal "80% of the time," it was telling that it was a doosra that eventually defeated him.

"We still had a good day," Cook added, "but the last 20 minutes turned it from a very good day. In an ideal world, we would only have two or three wickets down, but full credit to Pakistan: they bowled very well in that last half-hour."

Cook also said that he was tempted to ask for a review when he was adjudged LBW. "I got the nod from Kevin Pietersen," Cook said, "but it was very frustrating." It was the fourth time Cook had fallen in the 90s in Test cricket.

It would be dangerous to draw too many conclusions from the day's play. Yes, England coped, for a time at least, better with the spin threat. But just as it was wrong to jump to conclusions after the debacle of Dubai, it would be wrong to presume all is well after a good session or two in Abu Dhabi. Denying Ajmal remains the key to the series and the struggles of England's middle order suggested some of them are no nearer finding an answer to him.

The truth is, England enjoyed several large slices of fortune. Not only did Pakistan make a fearful hash of their reviews, but they also saw several edges fall agonisingly close to fielders.

Perhaps England were lucky with the toss, too. With the pitch starting just a little damp, England's spinners enjoyed some help that was denied to Pakistan's . By the time England had batted, the outfield had quickened, the pitch had dried and run scoring was easier. Only after tea did Pakistan feel that the ball was beginning to turn enough to threaten.

It is hard to predict how the pitch will play later in the game. As Cook said "history suggests this wicket holds together," and it may barely deteriorate. The suspicion is, however, that this is a very different wicket. Batting last could be tricky and if England can gain a first-innings lead of anything over 80, it could be priceless.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • 5wombats on January 27, 2012, 8:40 GMT

    @Sports4Youth on (January 26 2012, 22:19 PM GMT) you state; "By the time they come to India they will start counting the donkeys in the Eng team.... When you come to india you will count more donkeys in your camp". What's the matter @Sport4Youth - that second consecutive whitewash stinging a bit is it? With the state india Test cricket is in how dare an india fan call England "donkeys". Go back to Aus V ind forums and enjoy the whiteness. Please publish.

  • YorkshirePudding on January 27, 2012, 8:40 GMT

    Posted by on (January 27 2012, 04:47 AM GMT), yes becuase before neutral umpires, playing in pakistan umpires were never biased, one stat that I get reminded of at times like these at home Javed Miandad NEVER got LBW's against him, after neutral umpires were in place he started to get given LBW, thats not a coincidence. Its time Asian teams stopped playing the 'imperial victim' card and started being honest.

  • Shan156 on January 27, 2012, 6:50 GMT

    Why is that the England management doesn't know what everyone else does? That Morgan is not a test cricketer. Bopara would be a much better choice than Morgan in these conditions. It is good they selected Panesar though.

  • suniljoseph on January 27, 2012, 5:40 GMT

    i am also a pakistani but i think my brothers are behaving like the english media. once pakistan won the first test the english media came out of its shell and started speaking against ajmal's action. similarly when england batted well for a while in the second test, some innocent pakistani fans started speaking against drs. dear brothers from both nations lets be practical and make it happen rather than waiting for it to happen. the one who plays well will be the triumphant.

  • dummy4fb on January 27, 2012, 4:47 GMT

    umpiring standard was extremely bad... it was very biased... smtms we tend to get impression that DRC can be tampered with easily... Umpiring has always been biased against most o0f the Asian teams

  • dummy4fb on January 27, 2012, 4:31 GMT

    I saw the match in highlights, It was looking that Ajmal and Abdur Rehman would take wicket on every ball. They were simply unplayable, as Bell's expression suggested.

  • dummy4fb on January 27, 2012, 3:57 GMT

    Well George, this is the England side which you put in your article as one of the Greatest of All time. 1-0 down already, and still not looking solid. Definitely good enough to be compared to the West Indies side which dominated two decades and Steve Waugh and Bradman's Aussies. Any chance you'll write an article to retract those outrageous claims?

  • WellOfcours on January 27, 2012, 3:13 GMT

    When did Cook play against England? :? "There were similarities between this innings and Cook's debut century against England in Nagpur in 2006"

  • dummy4fb on January 27, 2012, 3:12 GMT

    Is it bad umpring or just bigoted umpiring? How can the English team savour such a victory if they win? DRS mechanism is set up in favour of umpires who may be bigoted!! DRS system must be reviwed and changed, There seems to be a good reason why India is keeping it at arms length.

  • dummy4fb on January 27, 2012, 2:52 GMT

    I am pretty hopeful that first hour of the game will be very good for Pakistan . I would like to know about the limit of overs an old ball could be used. this game may not go into fifth day.

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