No positive spin: they flop when it turns

It is clear England are not the finished article but don't panic

Aren't England supposed to be the best side in the world? What went wrong?

They are and deservedly so, but much more of this and they will be back to the pack quicker than a card sharp's ace of hearts. The batting was everything that it was not supposed to be any longer, full of abject decision making. There was a sense that they were determined not to show their apprehension by refusing to be patient.

The big worry for the rest of this series and for those to come in Sri Lanka and India later this year is that England seem to have made no progress in their ability to play on subcontinental pitches. Not that the surface at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium was at all typical in that regard – being slow but granting extremely little turn.

England were at a loss against Saeed Ajmal's slight but cunning variations and with Umar Gul's mastery of reverse swing as accomplished as the England fast bowlers, they have to atone quickly. Andrew Strauss said after the match yesterday that it was the first-innings batting that cost his side dear.

Perhaps so, but their second-innings exhibition was quite as disturbing because it seemed they had learned nothing. Ian Bell received splendid balls in both innings from Ajmal and he read neither of them. If he is playing in the dark it says little for the others.

Can England come back?

They can and they might. This team have had poor matches before – the third Test in Perth last year, within recent memory – and replied immediately. But this presents a different dilemma because of the conditions.

It has not helped that England lost early wickets in both innings, allowing Ajmal to take immediate advantage of batting that was already exposed. But this defeat will have shocked Strauss and his men.

They claim to be honest in admitting their weaknesses and what they must do to rectify them. The talking between now and the second Test next Wednesday in Abu Dhabi – another completely unknown quantity – will need to be full of self-recrimination.

Strauss said before the match that anybody who thought England were the finished article was a fool. But there was also a feeling that they really could leave a legacy as the best England side of all time.

Should England change the side?

Well, they could, but they probably will not. Now, as Strauss said, is not the time to panic. Ravi Bopara is the only spare batsman on tour and he may not be the quick fix.

It is understandable that Kevin Pietersen, for one, received heavy criticism yesterday for the way in which he was dismissed, hooking a short ball. It looked dreadful and it was. But in the Test before this, Pietersen made 175 (and Bell 235).

England reached No 1 in the world partly, perhaps largely, because they had become capable of accruing large totals. Scoreboard pressure is a wonderful weapon for the bowlers to have at their disposal and it is the only way the side can redeem themselves.

No, they have to entrust the same six batsmen with restoring order and, as the bowlers acquitted themselves well, it would be perverse to change them.

Chris Tremlett's name is being bandied about as a possible casualty but the Pakistan first innings was the first in which he has not taken a Test wicket.

But are the batsmen that good?

Yes, their statistics have been astonishing. It is true that Eoin Morgan, for all that he scored a hundred in the Edgbaston massacre against India last summer, is learning about the harsh rudiments of Test cricket. Of some concern, too, is the form of Strauss himself.

English cricket owes him a huge debt for taking over a dysfunctional team and – by carefully plotted strategy and a great depth of natural leadership – taking them to the top of the pile. He still averages 41 as a Test batsman but since the beginning of the 2010 summer that is down to 31.

That hardly seems to matter if the team are winning and all the other batsmen are in good form at once. Problems occur when all the other batsmen are in bad form at once. Strauss has scored one hundred in his last 40 innings and it is possible to begin wondering if he has any more in him.

Has Ajmal come from nowhere and what about his action?

Faisalabad actually, but he was 31 when he made his Test debut, in 2009. He has learned his craft, his action is eminently repeatable and he bowls beautifully wicket to wicket, allowing no scope for error. His action is not a thing of beauty, but if there is a jerk in the doosra it has already been found to be within the regulations. England claim they are not at all concerned with that. Nor should they be. They have enough to contend with.

Facts: In figures

7 Saeed Ajmal became the first spinner to take 7 lbws in a Test.

1988 The last time that England lost their seventh wicket for less than 100 runs in both innings of a Test.

2 It was Ajmal's second 10-wicket haul in Tests.

143 The amount of runs amassed by England's top six in both innings.

Comments