England outdone by Saeed Ajmal in 10-wicket defeat by Pakistan
Andrew Strauss's tourists must come up with a plan to play Saeed Ajmal or their stay at the top of Test cricket will be short lived
England cricket fans are used to watching their team be outdone by spin. Warne, Muralitharan, Kumble, Mushtaq have all done it. And now there is a new spinning nemesis, Saeed Ajmal.
The spinner took 10 wickets in the match as England made the worst imaginable start to the Pakistan series, slumping to a 10-wicket defeat inside three days.
Having taken the cricket world by storm to reach the top of the rankings in the five-day format, they capitulated in their first real challenge since reaching the world’s summit.
England have never won an away Test with Pakistan when they have won the toss and the bad run continued on the first morning. Andrew Strauss guessed correctly and elected to bat in Dubai.
From then on England were under pressure as wickets tumbled, most of them at the hand of Pakistan’s off spinner Ajmal.
The pitch was by no means a dust-bowl and the ball did not turn dramatically on any of the three days of play. Yet Ajmal, one of the finest exponents of off spin in the world game, took seven wickets in the first innings and completely bamboozled the English.
There was talk before the Test that Ajmal had created a new, “mystery delivery” named the teasra. When it was finally put on display commentators, including Michael Vaughan panned it as an unthreatening delivery.
That is all well and good, but if the batsman can’t pick the off spinner or the doosra then it renders the teasra irrelevant anyway.
The destruction Ajmal left in the first innings meant England, whose bowlers performed admirably to bowl the hosts out for 338 on a good batting pitch, were extremely guarded against him in the second.
The result was some extremely questionable shots from the top order as they looked to contain Ajmal and attack the remainder of the attack.
Strauss was unlucky to be caught down the leg side when the Decision Review System seemed to indicate he hadn’t hit it. Alastair Cook was dismissed down the leg side too, but will feel less hard done by than his skipper.
Usually such a composed player of the short ball, Cook seemed to flinch when Umar Gul banged one in. Undecided in whether to attack or evade, Cook threw his hands at the ball and only succeeded in gloving the ball behind.
Kevin Pietersen was then out-foxed within eight balls. It is well known that Pietersen likes to get off the mark early, usually dropping the ball into the off side and setting off for a frantic quick single. However, Pakistan countered this and blocked off his preferred route.
When a short ball presented itself just eight balls into his innings, Pietersen decided to try and hook it out of the ground, but was caught in the deep. It was a brainless shot that was not needed given the match situation.
Jonathan Trott seemed to be in one of his batting moods, compiling 49 runs from 111 balls and playing beautifully in the process. However, he slashed a cut shot at a short and wide delivery from Gul, who finished the second innings with 4-63, and was caught behind. In any other circumstance Trott’s usually reserved approach would have left the ball alone. The shot highlighted England’s desperation to score off the other bowlers with Ajmal proving so dangerous at the other end.
England slumped to 87-7 in the second innings, to follow their collapse to 97-7 in the first. Cook, Pietersen and Bell combined for 14 runs in the entire match, something that will need to drastically improve if they are to overturn this start.
They managed to make Pakistan bat again thanks to the swinging willow of Graeme Swann, but only set Pakistan a measly 15 runs.
The tourists must come up with a plan to play Ajmal, which includes scoring, and the other bowlers if they are to retrieve the situation they find themselves in at the moment. If they don’t their stay at the top of world Test cricket will be short lived.