Don't panic over batters, says Gooch

England 269-9 dec Pakistan Cricket Board XI 23-0

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The Independent Online

Perhaps it will be all right on the day. Perhaps when the real business begins next Tuesday, the world's best Test team will turn up as though they have never been away.

For the moment, however, most of England's batsmen appear to be in absentia, or at least away with the fairies. Following an indifferent display in their opening match of this tour, they embellished it in the second yesterday, against a Pakistan Board XI, with another that was quite as aberrant.

To this litany of mistakes and misfortune, there was a dignified and stoic exception in Alastair Cook, the run machine these days known as ITMA, or It's That Man Again. He made a sterling 133, the last player out in a total of 269 for 9 declared.

It was an innings made at an old-fashioned pace, at almost exactly a run every two balls, and contained 10 fours, none of them with memorable shots, all of them with serviceable ones. Having made 102 runs in his two innings in the tour opener, Cook is the only one of England's batsmen to have found proper early form.

England have feasted on runs with gargantuan appetites for more than a year, scoring 474 or more in an innings in 10 of their last 12 Test matches. It is wholly unnecessary to send for reinforcements but England's middle order are running out of time to rediscover their touch.

England lost wickets to a penetrating and rapid new-ball spell from Mohammad Talha and were then, more culpably, confounded by the leg-spin of Yasir Shah, who finished with five wickets. Graham Gooch, the team's batting coach, has seen and done it all, and he was not in reproachful mood after close of play.

"All the players who didn't spend time in the middle would be disappointed but it's not a time to panic," Gooch said. "What was good for us is that this pitch is behaving like the pitches we think we're going to get in the Test matches. They require attritional-type cricket where the tempo is a bit slower, you have to work harder for your runs and harder for your wickets. The whole style of play is different and our team have got to get their heads round what is required."

The warning signs, however, have been erected. The entire middle order, all of them sublime at some points in the previous 14 months, were swept away. Andrew Strauss, the captain, and Jonathan Trott went early, both to good balls from Talha, who has already played one Test match for Pakistan and looks as though he may well play more.

But then Yasir intervened. Kevin Pietersen had looked in an assured and determined frame of mind until he misread a straighter one playing a forcing shot off the back foot. Ian Bell played a sweep much too early in the piece, Eoin Morgan miscued a slog sweep. It was an old, old story.

Gooch said: "I think we need to look to improve against all types of bowling but spin is going to play a big part over here so we have to cope with that to prevail. In all the Tests over here so far Pakistan have played two opening bowlers and three spinners, so each player has to work out his game.

"That's the beauty of it. In Australia you have got to adapt to the bouncing ball, in England the ball moves laterally a bit more. Over here it's a different sort of game. That's what makes Test cricket a fantastic challenge.

"They have practised very well, so you have just got to do the things that have served you well in the past. They have got to stay strong mentally. You don't become a bad player over a couple of innings and the two players who got wickets bowled pretty well."

Cook was exemplary in rising above all this. He saw off the new ball by leaving it most of the time and then merely accumulated. There were two blemishes, when he offered hard catching chances on 84 and 131, but they did not alter the overall effect of a man in control. "It's all down to the guy's strength of character," said Gooch. "He has found a mechanism and a style of play that work for him and, fortunately for him in these couple of games, he has managed to get into that rhythm pretty quickly."

Cook has scored more than 1500 runs at an average of 94 in 13 matches since the beginning of the Ashes series last winter. Gooch said experience told him that doing well one year was no guarantee of carrying on in the same vain. England had better hope he does.

Dubai scoreboard

Warm-up match, ICC Global Cricket Academy. First day of three; Pakistan Cricket Board XI won toss

England XI: First Innings

*A J Strauss c Sarfraz Ahmed b Mohammad Talha 3

A N Cook c Ahmed b Talha 133

I J L Trott lbw b Talha 0

K P Pietersen b Shah 38

I R Bell lbw b Shah 0

E J G Morgan c Hasan b Shah 11

†M J Prior c Ahmed b Talha 46

G P Swann c Ahmed b Shah 24

G Onions c Talha b Shah 1

M S Panesar not out 0

Extras (lb6 w1 nb9) 13

Total (for 9 wkts, dec; 81.1 overs) 269

Fall 1-13, 2-14 3-97 4-101 5-121 6-211 7-257 8-267 9-269.

Did not bat C T Tremlett.

Bowling Talha 15.1-2-43-4, Mohammad Khalil 14-3-46-0, Hasan 26-3-99-0, Shah 26-1-75-5.

Pakistan Cricket Board XI: First Innings

Nasir Jamshed not out 12

Afaq Raheem 10

Extras (w1) 1

Total (for 0 wkts; 8 overs) 23

Bowling Onions 3-0-13-0, Tremlett 2-2-0-0, Swann 2-0-6-0, Panesar 1-0-4-0.

To bat Haris Sohail, Mohammad Ayub, Fawad Alam, Usman Salahuddin, Sarfraz Ahmed*†, Raza Hasan, Mohammad Khalil, Mohammad Talha, Yasir Shah.

Umpires Ahsan Raza (Pak) and Shozab Raza (Pak).

Test dates

First Test: Tuesday-21 January (Dubai)

Second Test: 25-29 January (Dubai)

Third Test: 3-7 February (Dubai)