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George Dobell in Dubai
February 24, 2012
A sense of frustration pervaded the England camp on Friday as they reflected on the one that got away. England feel they should have won the first T20I of the three-match series against Pakistan in the UAE, rather than stumble to an eight-run defeat.
With five overs remaining, England required just 35 runs and had seven wickets in hand. In T20 terms, that is a stroll.
Yet, from the moment that Ravi Bopara was the victim of a fine Umar Gul yorker, England's chase ground to a halt. They failed to hit a boundary after the 15th over - the over before Bopara's dismissal - and scored just 17 runs from the 24 balls that encompassed overs 16 to 19. It was not quite a Devon Loch-style capitulation, but it was not far short.
It would be easy to blame England's inexperienced middle order for the defeat, but not entirely fair. Instead, the credit should go to a Pakistan bowling attack that performed masterfully. Gul utilised reverse swing to deliver a barrage of penetrating yorkers, while the three spinners - Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez - teased and tormented the England batsmen. Some balls turned, some skidded on: with the bowlers' control and changes of pace, batting was desperately difficult.
There will be questions, inevitably, about the decision to play two inexperienced men in the middle order. While Jos Buttler and, particularly, Jonny Bairstow were excellent in the field, it is asking a great deal of them to adapt to these conditions and this bowling quickly enough to win international games. It is a problem that Ian Bell could tell them all about.
Buttler, perhaps, was a little unfortunate: he connected sweetly with his "Buttler paddle" (patent pending) but was deceived by a decent slower delivery and, as a consequence guided the ball to a fielder. Bairstow, despite his wonderfully swift running between the wickets, looked uncomfortable with the bat. For all his sound and fury, he rarely made a proper connection and failed to find the boundary. Both are young men, however, and will require patience if they are to fulfil their undoubted ability.
Graeme Swann, at least, enjoyed a good game with the ball. He claimed three for 13 from four overs, his best T20 figures, though he did take some of the gloss of that performance by dropping a catch - Asad Shafiq on nine - and struggling with the bat - he scored two from seven deliveries. While he accepted England should have won the game, he remained confident they could bounce back in the final two matches to take the series.
"The mood is a little bit downbeat," Swann said on Friday. "They have world-class bowlers at the death and we didn't cope with that as well as we should have done. Having said that, we got ourselves in a winning position and, nine times out of ten, we would expect to cross the line. It was disappointing not to do that. We've got two games left in the series to make amends.
"Gul bowled very well, but in some of the one-dayers we really got after him. T20 is one of those games: it proved that way for me last night. I got three wickets for hardly any runs. On another day it could have been 0-40 or 0-50. So we certainly won't panic. We know we can get after Umar Gul. He bowled exceptionally well last night but I'm sure, in the next couple of games, our batsmen will step up to the plate and do that.
"It's no surprise that spinners do well in T20. In Dubai especially, where there are fairly big boundaries and it's not easy for the batsmen to get after you. There's always a chance of catches in the deep.
"Of course we can bounce back. We've just beaten these guys 4-0 in the ODI series. So confidence is still sky high. Had KP stayed in for three or four more overs, we would have won in ten overs, the way he was going. He's looking in ominous form at the top of the order. The bowlers are bowling well and the fielders are taking catches: I don't see any reason why we can't win the next two."
Swann also suggested that, far from blaming the young players for failing to finish off the game, the onus was on those batsmen who had become established at the crease. He also expressed his disappointment that England do not play more T20Is before September's World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka. By the time this series finishes, England will have just four more T20Is before the tournament.
|"Broady is a single man and a good-looking man. He's England captain. Why wouldn't the lady want to marry him?" Graeme Swann|
"Maybe there was a little inexperience," he said. "But we always talk about the guys who get in going on to finish the game. That's the same in any format. It's always easier for the guys who are in. We've a couple of guys who are in very good form and they got 30s last night where, on another day, they could easily have been match-winning 60s or 70s. I'm sure that'll happen next time.
"You never have that many games building up to World Twenty20s. It was the same when we won in the West Indies. No-one really knew what our strongest team was until we were on the plane on the way over. It's a shame there are so few games leading up to the World Twenty20, so we really do have to make every one count."
Despite their disappointment with the result, England enjoyed the lively atmosphere created by a good-sized crowd. They were, though, a little surprised by the regular contributions of one persistent female spectator who, armed with a microphone and the PA system, made it abundantly clear that she was open to a marriage proposal from Stuart Broad.
"Broady is a single man and a good-looking man," Swann said. "He's England captain. Why wouldn't she want to marry him? But, having heard her voice screeching through our ears all night, I'm not sure he'll be too keen to accept her offer."
Sadly there was no such good humour once spectators attempted to leave the ground. The stadium's remote location - some miles outside Dubai and surrounded by desert and unfinished buildings - means the only option for public transport is taxis, but taxi drivers are reluctant to venture so far outside their normal areas of business. As a result many spectators were obliged to wait up to four hours to get away, with some resorting to walking across the desert or attempting to flag cars down on the main road. It was a chaotic - and potentially dangerous - end to a memorable day and an incident that raises questions about the suitability of Dubai as a venue for international cricket.
Edited by Alan Gardner
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