England collapse against Pakistan on opening day


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The Independent Online

England collapsed to Saeed Ajmal at the start of their first Test series as the world's top team, against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.

Ajmal removed three batsmen in five balls on his way to a career-best seven for 55 - including five lbws - in a total of 192 all out as only England's number seven wicketkeeper-batsman Matt Prior (70no) managed to resist for long on day one of this three-match series.

After Pakistan responded with an untroubled 42 without loss at stumps, the indications were that England might be significantly under-par on a pitch yet to misbehave.

Prior dug in against type and showed great resilience and technique amid his team-mates' failures, finding significant assistance only from Eoin Morgan and then Graeme Swann - with whom he added 57 for the eighth wicket.

Andrew Strauss' tourists lost Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott in the first hour even before the intervention of Ajmal, who had taunted them with talk of a new mystery delivery in the build-up to this tough examination of their new world-beating credentials.

Whether the off-spinner was profiting from those mind games was a moot point. But either way, clever disguise of his off-breaks, doosras - and maybe even a 'teesra' or two - proved too much for a succession of England batsmen.

Once he entered the attack at 42 for two, he bowled 16 overs unchanged almost until tea - and then returned to finish the job, leaving only Prior unbeaten.

In their first attempt to consolidate since reaching the top of the International Cricket Council world table against India last summer, England found themselves playing a stone's throw from the world governing body's headquarters.

In front of a paltry crowd of hundreds rather than thousands at the 25,000-capacity Dubai International Cricket Stadium, almost exclusively English in this neutral territory for Pakistan's 'home' series, they appeared to be set for a low-key start to this first of 15 Tests this year.

But Cook soon departed, to only the third delivery of spin after Pakistan had turned for the first time to one of their slow bowlers in only the sixth over.

England chose to select just Swann as their spin option, with Kevin Pietersen also able to bowl part-time off-breaks.

Pakistan, meanwhile, named two frontline slow bowlers. But it was neither of them, but instead occasional off-spinner Mohammad Hafeez, who struck.

Cook went back to cut, and a small amount of turn was enough to take the edge for caught-behind.

Strauss was joined by Trott, who registered England's first three boundaries before going too far across to Aizaz Cheema to edge behind down the leg-side - the only batsman to be dismissed by pace, and departing exactly as he did in his first innings of this tour against an ICC Combined XI during England's warm-up schedule.

But it was the introduction of Ajmal, Pakistan's fifth bowler used, which spelled real trouble for England.

Strauss paid for an apparent misjudgment, attempting to pull off the front foot and bowled by a ball which did not seem to be short enough.

Ian Bell then went for a first-ball duck, in Ajmal's next over, pushing forward in defence only to get a thin edge behind to a delivery that appeared to have spin imparted but barely moved off the straight.

Three balls later, Pietersen was lbw - via the series' first DRS ruling - to one that snaked past the outside edge and hit him low on the front pad.

Ajmal ought to have had his fourth wicket almost immediately when Morgan survived an obvious stumping chance on three, and England reached the end of a tortured session with no further losses.

Morgan and Prior were threatening to also negotiate the first hour after lunch, and had almost doubled the score, when the left-hander missed a sweep at Ajmal and was lbw.

England failed with a DRS attempt to overturn that decision from Bruce Oxenford, and the Australian was proved right again after Stuart Broad made the same mistake.

Swann drove well, kept Prior company for much of the latter's richly-deserved 115-ball 50 and could hardly be blamed for losing his off bail to a perfectly-pitched delivery from Abdur Rehman which also turned sharply.

Prior grabbed another 41 for the last two wickets as numbers 10 and 11 lent fair support until succumbing, almost inevitably, to Ajmal in England's first sub-200 total since their Ashes defeat in Perth more than a year ago.