2nd Test

Pakistan v England, 2011-12

George Dobell

At Abu Dhabi, January 25-28, 2012. Pakistan won by 72 runs. Toss: Pakistan.


Pakistan react to Kevin Pietersen's dismissal, Pakistan v England, 2nd Test, Abu Dhabi, 4th day, January 28, 2012
Only the second time in more than a century that England had lost chasing a target under 150 © Getty Images
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Tour and tournament reports : Pakistan v England, 2011-12
Teams: England | Pakistan

Nobody remembers the first 90% of the voyage of the Titanic. They forget the prompt departure, excellent catering and swift progress across the north Atlantic. No, all anyone talks about is that unfortunate incident with the iceberg.

So it proved with this Test. By the end, few recalled England's excellent bowling; the dogged 139-run stand between Cook and Trott that seemed to have put them in charge; Broad's counter-attacking half-century; or Panesar's six second-innings wickets, in his first Test since July 2009.

Instead, it was all about England's fourth innings. Set 145 to win, they did not even make it halfway, capitulating for 72 to go 2-0 down with one to play. It was comfortably their lowest total against Pakistan, outdoing 130 at The Oval in 1954, in the first series between these sides, and again at Lahore in 1987-88. It was England's lowest Test score since 51 in Jamaica in February 2009. And it was only the second time in more than a century they had lost chasing a target under 150.

Whichever way you looked at it, this was a shocking reverse for a team playing their first series since whitewashing India to go top of the Test rankings in August 2011. It was the first time they had lost successive Tests since hosting South Africa in 2008, and their first series defeat in ten, dating back to that 2008-09 tour of the West Indies. Records tumbled as quickly as wickets.

Perhaps it should not have come as a huge surprise. England's record in Asia promised little: excluding Bangladesh, and including the game in Dubai, they had won only one of their last 18 Tests there. Meanwhile, Pakistan had won six of their previous eight Tests and were unbeaten in six series - including a one-off Test against Zimbabwe - following the tumultuous summer of 2010. Under the captaincy of Misbah-ul-Haq and the genial guidance of interim coach Mohsin Khan, they had developed into a decent side in any conditions, and an excellent one in the UAE.

Abu Dhabi is the driest Test ground in the world, a fact which, combined with injuries to Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan, persuaded England to select two specialist spinners, something they had done only once since July 2009. Even more unusually, those two - Swann and Panesar - formed half of a four-man attack. England had not employed a configuration of two fast and two slow bowlers since Kandy in 2003-04.

From a bowling perspective, the tactic worked. Despite losing an important toss, England used the ball with impressive control on a low surface which snared 29 batsmen bowled or lbw - a record for any Test. Broad, in particular, maintained a wonderfully nagging line and length, and the spinners gained turn from the start as Pakistan slipped to 103 for four. If Anderson, normally so reliable, had held a relatively simple chance at slip off Panesar when Misbah was 30, England might have taken an unassailable advantage.

It proved a costly miss. While his colleagues were provoked into errors by England's persistence, Misbah played with discipline and denial, adding 100 with Asad Shafiq. But it was not all grim attrition: when the field was in, Misbah twice lofted Panesar for successive sixes - with his third and fourth scoring shots and, just as improbably, in the last over of the day. Though Shafiq tarnished his innings with a wild sweep, the value of their partnership became apparent when his wicket was the first of six to go for only 54, the final three falling on the second morning at the same score.

Strauss went early but, during the 50 overs in which Cook and Trott were compiling England's highest stand of the series, it seemed they would build a match-defining cushion. Trott, though, was bowled by a beauty from Abdur Rehman that turned past his outside edge, and Cook was defeated by Ajmal's doosra, six runs short of a 20th Test hundred. The middle order flopped again, and it required Broad's belligerence - he faced only 62 balls - to give England a handy lead of 70.

That looked as if it would be enough when Pakistan slipped to 54 for four second time round. Panesar troubled all the batsmen with sharp turn and, had Pietersen hit with an underarm throw from ten feet and with all three stumps to aim at, Shafiq would have been run out for 26. Instead he and Azhar Ali, two of Pakistan's younger brigade, demonstrated real composure to add 88. The run-rate barely passed two an over, and Azhar's 68 spanned four and a quarter hours, but at least they helped Pakistan eke out a lead of 144: not much to bowl at, but enough to set minds racing - on both sides.

Then came the iceberg. England, paralysed with fear and uncertainty, never gained momentum. Struggling to pick the length because of the remarkable pace of Pakistan's spinners, and wary of missing anything on their stumps on another sluggish pitch, they remained rooted to the crease. Thus encouraged, the bowlers exerted a suffocating grip: Cook's seven occupied 15 overs before he gifted a leading edge back to the off-spin of Mohammad Hafeez, opening the bowling and evidently a specialist against the lefthanders; Strauss's 32 took 29 overs. When he was fifth out, at 56, the end was nigh.

Already gone were Bell, deceived for the third time in the series by Ajmal's doosra, plus Pietersen and Morgan, both beaten by Rehman deliveries that skidded on. Trott, batting down the order because of a stomach bug, and Broad were soon defeated by the acute turn of Rehman, who wrapped things up when Anderson swung to deep midwicket.

The last five wickets had tumbled in 11 balls, while the waspish, relentless Rehman finished with a career-best six for 25. Only seven men - Charlie Turner, Monty Noble, Aubrey Faulkner, Gerry Hazlitt, Ray Lindwall, Malcolm Marshall and Curtly Ambrose - had taken six or more wickets in a Test innings against England for so few runs. And, with Prior's dismissal, Ajmal became the quickest Pakistan player to 100 Test victims, in his 19th game. Between them, Pakistan's spin trio had claimed 19 wickets.

Seven batsmen failed to score more than a single in England's final collapse, matching the team's humiliation at Kingston in February 2009, their first Test with Strauss and Flower in charge, and only one short of the Test record of eight, when England dismissed New Zealand for 26 at Auckland in 1954-55. No wonder Strauss said it was "a struggle to think of a loss that has hurt more".

Man of the Match: Abdur Rehman.

Close of play: first day, Pakistan 256-7 (Misbah-ul-Haq 83, Saeed Ajmal 0); second day, England 207-5 (Bell 4); third day, Pakistan 125-4 (Azhar Ali 46, Asad Shafiq 35).

© John Wisden & Co.