Footwork and technique can dig England out of a hole

Graham Thorpe's masterplan for how to combat spin in Asia has never been more apt

Dubai

As the evidence of the series confirms, England are in a spin. It may be the mother of all spins, driven by a formidable opposition bowler and complicated by strange pitches and modern technology.

There never was going to be an easy way to play the doosra-wielding off spinner Saeed Ajmal on Asian pitches, and his orthodox slow-left-arm counterpart, Abdur Rehman, has hardly been less potent. The UAE may be a home away from home but it has done very nicely thank you.

It is not that England were not prepared in their way, simply that they have been taken by surprise and subsequently uncertain what they should do. One man who knows better than most is Graham Thorpe, now the lead batting coach with the England Performance Centre but also the most adroit English player of spin in recent times.

"There is a balance to be achieved between understanding your technique properly in that part of the world and then actually implementing it," said Thorpe. "A wicket has fallen and you're walking out over the rope, and if you don't get your composure right, you don't implement the right technique at the right time, you can all fall down."

Since Thorpe was speaking before this series started it was as if he understood the pitfalls that lay in wait. He is at present in Sri Lanka with the England Lions, presumably trying to avert the kind of calamity in the future that has befallen the present champions of the Test world.

Thorpe played two, perhaps three, of the greatest of all England innings on the sub-continent. In the gloom of Karachi in late 2000 he made a serenely composed 64 not out for England to gain an improbable series win against Pakistan, Saqlain Mushtaq and Shahid Afridi and all.

Three months later in Colombo against Sri Lanka, he was never better, scoring 113 not out and 32 not out in a magnificent four-wicket win which clinched the series. It was a master class in dealing with slow bowling in alien conditions, not the least of which was the oppressive heat.

"Fitness is important because you're concentrating for longer periods of time but technique is massively important because the ball spins," said Thorpe. "Whether it's Test cricket or one-day cricket you get men round the bat and you get all the pressure to score so the technique has to be spot on.

"We have to work very hard on that and that is being comfortable with footwork, potentially coming out of the crease. It's not always about just coming out of the crease, it's about how well you can actually push back, which is just as important in Asia."

England's batsmen are well aware of these two components, sitting deep, getting forward. But it has been made difficult for them to settle because of Ajmal's tendency to fire it in straight at the start of an innings. It has been quick and turning just enough.

"The one thing I wasn't always comfortable with was coming down the pitch," said Thorpe. "I'm quite keen on guys being in the crease, but understanding if they need to come out the crease how they're going to do that and more importantly how they can rotate the strike by getting deeper in the crease as well.

"Picking length is crucial against spin and once you have picked length, technique can get you forward. But the minute he is not forward someone like Rahul Dravid is very deep in the crease working with the leg side but keeping the off side open as well."

Scoring options have to be kept open and this was Thorpe's major asset. He knew that he had to keep beavering away, never allowing the spinners to settle into a groove, adjusting on the hoof, which is what England failed to do in the first two Tests.

"Yes, you need to understand the sweep shot, you need to know where the big shots are and you need to know where your release shots are and breaking your wrists on shots. Whenever you go to someone else's country you've got to look at some of their own players and see what they do right. You're not going to play exactly like it but you've got to pick up little bits of what they might do well, what they do slightly better than us that we can actually take from their game and put into ours.

"We cannot be robots, you have got to get the timing of your movements right for each particular bowler and I think exposure to this at a young age is good."

In a spin: How batsmen can combat twirlers

Andrew Strauss The back foot has been the making of him as a Test batsman. But being crease-bound here has encouraged the bowler to skid it in and limit his scoring options. A touch more of last year's one-day Strauss, where he was not afraid to hit down the ground, may be necessary.

Alastair Cook He also plays a waiting game, which worked in the first innings in Abu Dhabi. Has not entirely worked out Ajmal but high level of obduracy has meant he has overcome any limitations. Of his 10 fours in his second Test 94, five were cuts backward of square, four clips through midwicket.

Jonathan Trott Another of the few successes with 49 and 74 in successive matches. Prefers the on-side as ever but has tried to come forward as well as nudge behind square on the leg side. Scored only 10 of his runs against Saeed Ajmal from 38 balls in his Abu Dhabi first innings, seven of them singles behind square leg.

 

Kevin PietersenHas been desperate to get forward to kill the spin and impose himself. But he has not read the length well and has tended to play with bat across pad. His long reach can only help.

 

Ian Bell Has hardly been round long enough in three of the innings but has yet to convince in picking Ajmal. In theory, he can press forward as well as play deep in the crease, but has been caught between the two areas.

 

Eoin Morgan Needs to work out what his strengths are. Best sweeper in the world but was out to the shot in the initial collapse in Dubai when he misread length and was lbw. Seemed to cloud his judgement in Abu Dhabi, curtailing options, though Ajmal's line is making it difficult. Looked at sea, planted to crease, in second innings.

 

Matt Prior Played beautifully in first Test, getting forward when he could and playing straight on a pitch that needed it. Ignored that for some reason in second match. Looks sounder than most.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Life and Style
A general view during the 2014 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at Earl's Court exhibition centre on 2 December, 2014 in London, England
fashionIt's not all about the catwalks: the big changes of the past year can be summed up in six clothing items
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?