Dawson spins along important learning curve

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The Independent Online

The off-spinner Richard Dawson had a tough first day in the field for his country. The absence of an early breakthrough meant that it was going to be a process of plugging away and hoping to wear down the opposition – and he made a fair job of it.

It cannot have done his morale much good on the first day to have been given an object lesson by a world class off-spinner, Harbhajan Singh, on how best to use the flattest of non-turning pitches. Dawson's limited experience has been in England where the ball can turn; Harbhajan has learned his trade on the relentless pitches of India.

No one will have expected Dawson to tease with the variations of flight and pace which are Harbhajan's stock-in-trade. He pushed the ball through as he does for Yorkshire and embarked upon a war of attrition to try to make inscrutable Indian batsmen lose patience with him. To his dismay, he found that the prophet Job would have been proud of them – Deep Dasgupta in particular.

None the less, he should be proud of his efforts. He showed good control, when he came on he immediately bowled an attacking line outside the off stump with six men on the off-side.

He took his first Test wicket with only his 12th ball when the nightwatchman Anil Kumble, who is no mug with the bat, cut and Jamie Foster threw the ball aloft, also claiming his first Test victim.

Soon, a conversation with Nasser Hussain prompted Dawson to go round the wicket and for a while he bowled this side and that, changing with frequency in the hope of unsettling the batsman. He had no difficulty in adapting his line when changing sides, but all the time he was pushing the ball through.

There was never the chance that he was going to wrongfoot the batsman and catch him out of position. This is not a criticism as much as an observation. When Dawson reflected at the end of this day he must have thought back to Harbhajan's success and wondered why it had happened.

He should have learned from the Indian and should have begun to realise that if he is going to compete successfully at this level he will have to try to learn a few more tricks. Of course, it is ridiculous to expect him to come out here in the second innings or in the next two Tests and start to flight the ball and change his pace in the same way, but he will have taken a big step forward if he realises that these are aspects of his art he must start to work upon.

He bowled a long first spell of 13 overs and only the last was expensive when he dragged the ball down short and was cut and pulled for three fours. In his second spell he might have had Dasgupta caught at slip off his first ball if Andrew Flintoff had been standing straighter – as he should have been. In all, this was an important day in Dawson's learning curve and one can only hope he has taken it all on board.

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