Pakistan v England, 3rd Test, Dubai, 1st day February 3, 2012

Batsmen battered, again

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

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 ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 6, 2012, 19:55 GMT

    England cannot call themselves No.1 until they conquer each continent. While there's talk that England's home conditions would suit them, clearly there's a struggle to deal with spin even at home. Mushtaq was the leading County wicket taker in 2003, then he was recalled for Pakistan but proved ineffective before returning to County cricket in 2004 to be the leading wicket taker yet again. Sort of sums up England's inability to deal with spin in most conditions ... even its own backyard.

  • John on February 6, 2012, 18:46 GMT

    @Gupta.Ankur on (February 03 2012, 17:56 PM GMT) Sorry my dear friend but I think you mean Eng's no 1 status IS a sham as they currently can not be knocked off the top of the official rankings at least until SA play NZ and then only if/when SA win 3-0. That's the ICC ratings , although I'm sure the ones in your head have never had them at 1. Cheers

  • John on February 6, 2012, 18:46 GMT

    @Posted by EvilQuill on (February 04 2012, 16:02 PM GMT) I'm sure he was preparing some more imaginitive , constructive , well balanced posts for future threads

  • John on February 6, 2012, 18:45 GMT

    @TheBengalTiger on (February 04 2012, 21:51 PM GMT) Not sure if England have the best bowling attack in the world. SA have an awesome attack and depth too. Pak have put their name forward too. They've not played test cricket vs SL and Ind for a while but our bowling has been between ok and decent in UAE. Swann has been a little under par but Jimmy,Monty and in particular Broad have generally bowled well. I can tell you a team who certainly hasn't got the best bowling attack in the world - but that's too obvious.

  • Randolph on February 6, 2012, 11:49 GMT

    England are literally the worst team on earth. After 100 odd years of being cellar dwellers they have a brief 6 months at the top thanks to a bunch of imports and then are already getting whitewashed by the likes of pakistan. Absolutely hilarious. Keep wiping that egg off your faces england fans, there is a lot more to come!!

  • John on February 5, 2012, 19:34 GMT

    @Spelele on (February 04 2012, 15:46 PM GMT) - Thanks for your well balanced post there. Re "When did England ever beat SA?" - answer 2004-5 in SA. The last time we played SA it was drawn , the time before that SA won 2-1. In fact over the last 6 series between both sides I make it 8-8 in tests , 2 drawn series and 2 to either side , each by 2-1. You're probably right the 99 all out was just a freakish collapse and we'll be in big trouble when we face Sri Lanka and the might of India. Stay happy.

  • John on February 5, 2012, 10:19 GMT

    @Ejaz Ahmad Siddiqui on (February 04 2012, 11:03 AM GMT) A better way of Strauss to protect Bell would be to drop the guy. It's ok to protect another batsman while he settles , if that other batsman is going to get used to the conditions and improve but from what I've seen of pretty much all the England batsmen that has not been the case. Although he scored only 32 , I felt KPs inns was possibly the best of any Eng batsman in any of these tests , purely because he took the game to Pak , gave Misbah stuff to think about and seemed to have a positive influence on Strauss. If Bell needs that much protection then he he shouldn't be playing for England when his confidence is that shattered

  • Barry on February 4, 2012, 23:19 GMT

    The main influence of the DRS is to show that batsmen have been getting away murder for a long time. Yes, I know they should get the benefit of any doubt because one mistake when you're batting and it's all over but too much benefit of has piled up in the batsmen's corner. Techniques have become too loose and concentration non-existent. Batsmen have had it good, so it's time the balance returning.

  • Mike on February 4, 2012, 21:51 GMT

    England have not got the best bowling attack in the world. They cant bowl at all in the subcontinent! How can they be the best?

  • Shahzaib on February 4, 2012, 21:16 GMT

    I see nothing wrong with ball dominating bat for a change... For too long now, every rule has been tweaked to make it harder for bowlers, with shorter boundaries, field restrictions, ball changes, powerplays etc... And that has made us take hollow batting records as signs of greatness! And the rule changes have made batsmen softer, even if it has been across a different format. A grind to 50 in Test cricket to win is much better than a flashy hundred that doesn't change the course of a game...

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