Ajmal and Gul slay Strauss’ men
2011 was an exceptional year for English cricket. They crushed Australia downunder, retaining the Ashes, and then established themselves at the top of the tree, as the number one test playing nation in the world. Reaching these heights, however, they knew was only the beginning of a long and arduous road, with testing but exciting times ahead. The first hurdle to overcome would be Pakistan on their ‘home’ territory, in Dubai. Would England be able to repeat the feats of the previous year and continue on their road to greatness and supremacy in the world of cricket? Well… not exactly.
England’s batsmen crumbled on what appeared to be a placid pitch, as Saeed Ajmal and Umar Gul ran riot. Ajmal, who took 7 wickets in the first innings, did not appear to be generating a large amount of spin off the wicket, yet managed to bamboozle the English top order, removing Strauss, Pietersen, Bell and Morgan; four of England’s top six. Matt Prior, England’s wicketkeeper-batsman, emphasised the docile nature of the pitch with an imperious 70 not out, but only Graeme Swann (34) was able to provide any support. England were dismissed for a meagre 192. In response, Pakistan’s batsmen, perhaps more accustomed to the conditions, faced far less problems, with four of their players notching up accomplished half centuries. England’s bowlers toiled away admirally, with Stuart Broad particularly impressive, but Pakistan still managed to post 338- 146 runs ahead. England’s second innings began badly, as Umar Gul ripped through the top order, removing Strauss, Cook and Pietersen in quick succession. Only Jonathan Trott (49) and Graeme Swann (39) were able to make any sort of score, as England, for the second time in the match, were dismissed cheaply for 160. This left Pakistan with the simple task of scoring 15 runs to win the match, which they did without concern.
This defeat has humbled England, who had not lost a test match since December last year. It has highlighted one specific issue, however, which I think needs to be remedied if England are going to increase their chances of winning in the sub-continent, where they must succeed in order to remain number 1. In recent history, England have been unwilling to play a second spinner when perhaps it should have been considered more seriously. I’m not suggesting that playing Monty Panesar instead of one of the seamers would have changed the outcome of this match, as this is not the case. The blame needs to be placed on the batsmen. However, it is something that should be considered for the next match, particularly with the fact that Chris Tremlett looks unlikely to play. Graeme Swann is a fantastic spinner and, in my opinion, probably the best in the world, but he cannot be expected to do all the damage on pitches where the seamers are ineffective. The England selectors need to be brave and perhaps try something new. England are an exceptional team in English conditions, where the ball seams and swings around, but unless they add this new dimension to their game they will never be as good in the sub-continent.
England are in no way out of this three-match series with Pakistan, but they need to recover quickly from this defeat and respond ruthlessly.