Flower: Playing spin is all in the head, it's not brain surgery


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The Independent Online

All that England have to do to win Tests in Asia is find a way of playing spin bowling on low, slow pitches. It is not, as their coach, Andy Flower, said yesterday, brain surgery.

But it is, however, all in the mind. The batsmen were astonished to find their method lacking against the wiles of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, and they were unable to think quickly enough to adjust. The rest was as easy as ABC for Pakistan.

As for England, they may need attention to their brains, if not of the surgical kind, before their next assignments against spin, in Sri Lanka next month and in India in November, which will determine whether they stay at No 1 in the world.

It is a weakness that has existed almost as long as English batsmen have been coming to Asia. Their difficulties were vastly compounded by the umpire review system and technology which led to 43 leg before decisions in the series, easily a record for a three-match rubber and equal to the number between England and Australia in 1981 and England and West Indies in 2000, which consisted respectively of six and five matches.

The riddle of the spin remains, though Flower sounded optimistic that it would be solved. He pointed especially to the batting of Younis Khan, who played a masterful innings in the third Test, which happened to emphasise the difficulties that Pakistan also had.

"If you look at the method Younis Khan employed very successfully to combat the two good spinners and the DRS system, which has changed the dangers of lbw quite significantly, you can see you can employ a method that succeeds," said Flower.

"Hardly a ball touched his front pad that whole innings and it was really nice to watch. I don't think it's, as people say, brain surgery, but it does need a change of approach, or technique or method or whatever you'd like to call it."

England were not as match-hardened as Pakistan at the start of the series (and had been thoroughly softened up by the end) because they had a six-week break before arriving in the United Arab Emirates. But it was a rest they needed with the amount of cricket coming up and Flower did not hide behind it for long. "The crux of the matter is that we lost the series because of how we played spin," he said.

There will not be wholesale changes and there may be no changes at all, though Flower conceded that he would be looking with a keener eye at players of spin in the forthcoming one-day series against Pakistan. England, he said, had to find batsmen who could play spin, and the skill was transferable from one-dayers to Tests and vice-versa.

But he echoed the Test captain, Andrew Strauss, in implying the likelihood of not wielding the axe. "To the England supporter who would think that way I can understand it," Flower said. "But they have got to realise that these players have built up a lot of credits. One series I don't think is enough to eliminate all those.

"In saying that, this is not a closed shop and if changes are required or deemed necessary it's part of our job to have the courage of our convictions to make those changes and we will try to do that as wisely and fairly as possible.

"But I would say don't condemn this side for losing as badly to Pakistan. They are not robots, they are not perfect just like no one in this room is perfect and we have all made mistakes." But they had better not repeat them in Sri Lanka.