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Faulty technique and a lack of concentration from batsmen on both sides mean low scores have proliferated in this series - but the cricket has been more watchable as a result
George Dobell in Dubai
February 3, 2012
Features : A day of batting collapses
News : Curse continues for Pietersen
Report : England squeeze into lead as wickets tumble
Features : More head-scratching over DRS
Matches: England v Pakistan at Dubai (DSC)
Series/Tournaments: England tour of United Arab Emirates
In years to come, when people look at the scores from this absorbing series in the UAE, they may well conclude that it was contested on pitches offering the bowlers copious assistance. After all, no one has yet made a century (Alastair Cook's 94 in Abu Dhabi remains the highest individual score) and no team has registered a total of 350 (Pakistan's 338 in Abu Dhabi is the highest to date). Furthermore, England and Pakistan have both been dismissed for under 100. Only two men in England's top six have even made a half-century and 16 wickets on the first day of this Test tells its own story.
The answer is not so simple. Indeed, Mohsin Khan, the 56-year-old Pakistan coach who played 48 Tests, referred to the day as the most "crazy" he has seen, because there was so little in the conditions to justify a tally of just 203 runs against 16 wickets.
While this pitch, like all the others in this series, has offered a little encouragement to seamers and spinners, and the slow outfield has made run-scoring difficult, there has been nothing untoward in any of these surfaces. The players on both sides have described the pitches as "good cricket wickets", providing just enough assistance to the bowlers to maintain the balance between bat and ball.
So, why the low scores once again?
Firstly, let's give credit to the bowlers. England's opening pair of Stuart Broad and James Anderson bowled beautifully here, maintaining a perfect length and a probing line. They gained just enough movement to trouble the batsmen and were well supported by England's two spinners.
Pakistan, too, have a well-balanced attack. Umar Gul, generating decent pace, made the early breakthroughs before the Pakistan spin pairing of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman once again demonstrated their excellent control and skill levels.
So the bowlers of both sides bowled well. And the pitch provided the seamers, at least, with a little assistance. But 16 wickets in a day? Even the bowlers would admit they did not perform that well. As James Anderson said: "There was a little bit of swing, but not a huge amount of movement. Looking at the pitch before play, I wouldn't have said it was a 16-wickets-in-a-day pitch."
The batsmen were certainly partially culpable. Confronted with a little swing or some gentle turn, the batsmen of both sides failed to cope. Mohsin, while acknowledging the good bowling, used the words "unnecessary", "irresponsible" and "bad" to describe some of the shots he witnessed. Misbah-ul-Haq, for example, missed a straight one, while Younis Khan fenced at one he could have left. Then, when England batted, both Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan simply missed straight balls - the former when he brought his bat down as if he were drawing curtains and the latter when he attempted to turn across the line and missed. These are basic technical errors.
|The learning experience of modern batsmen has been homogenised, leaving them unable to adapt when they find themselves in foreign conditions|
Geoff Boycott, speaking to ESPNcricinfo this week, reasoned that the techniques of modern batsmen were not able to cope with adverse conditions. While batsmen of his generation were brought up on uncovered pitches, causing huge variety in batting conditions, today's learn to play on well-covered, well-rolled surfaces. As a consequence, Boycott believes, they do not build a technique that can withstand the moving ball. Their learning experience has been homogenised, leaving them unable to adapt when they find themselves in foreign conditions.
There may be something in that. Taking an extreme example, we saw how, in 2010 and 2011, the teams touring the UK struggled to deal with the movement generated by England's seamers. Similarly England's batsmen, for all their success at home, look deeply uncomfortable in Asian conditions. Forget the idea of flat-track bullies; home-track bullies would be more apt.
Perhaps the influence of Twenty20 cricket is also relevant. We see fewer draws in Tests these days, despite the fact that, decades ago, over-rates meant there was more cricket packed into each day. There is a theory among some former players that modern batsmen do not so much suffer for a lack of technique, but a lack of concentration.
The increasing influence of the Decision Review System is certainly a key development. The advent of DRS has encouraged umpires to be far less cautious in giving batsmen out and, with just one day of the third Test played, the series has already surpassed the record for the most lbw dismissals in a three-match series.
That has, undoubtedly, made life harder for batsmen. While there was a time they could hope to lunge forward and exploit the umpire's uncertainty over the distance the ball might have to travel, now there is no hiding place. In times past, Pietersen might well have escaped in this Test, with the umpire concluding that the ball was passing down the leg side. Asad Shafiq, too, would probably have escaped with the umpire unsure whether the ball hit his glove or pad first. Batsmen used to enjoy the benefit of the doubt; now there is little.
That is not to say the DRS is a negative development. As Mohsin said: "I am very happy with this system. One bad decision can change a whole scenario, so I am totally in favour of it. At times, I feel things have got much easier for the batsmen. We don't see the same bowling attacks that I faced in my day."
There was a time, not so long ago, when Tests were drenched in runs and bore draws occurred frequently. Thankfully such days are largely gone and, while life might be tougher for batsmen, it is a great deal more pleasurable for spectators.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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