'Shocked' Flower trusts batsmen to work Ajmal out

 

Dubai

Sooner or later on their travels in Asia, England were bound to be ambushed again by spin. History dictates that there is always another mystery man lying in wait, ready to ensnare them in a web of intrigue leading to disaster.

Click HERE to view 'England in a spin: The same old story...'

Saeed Ajmal is but the latest in the line. He was not exactly an unforeseen assailant, since his 50 Test wickets last year were more than any other bowler. But nobody expected him to instigate such carnage on the first day of the series against Pakistan and by so doing create doubts which may not be easily overcome in the four days available before the second Test starts in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

"It was a bit of a shock," said Andy Flower, England's coach, yesterday in the wake of England's 10-wicket defeat, in which Ajmal had match figures of 10 for 97. "Look, we played poorly and we particularly batted poorly. Test cricket is a tough game and if you keep on batting like that you will be punished. Pakistan were good enough to do so."

Flower was a brilliant player of spin bowling in subcontinental conditions and he developed his own idiosyncratic style for combating it. He cannot simply hand over the manual for that on the road to Abu Dhabi, for it does not work like that. There is no catch-all way to play Ajmal, though the worrying aspect of England's capitulation is that most of their batsmen seemed to have no pre-ordained approach and unfurled hurried shots which hinted at panic.

"Each individual will have his own method against spin and even those individuals might play at the start of their innings differently," said Flower. "Sometimes attacking, sometimes looking to get off strike, sometimes sitting in if they have to, sometimes waiting to see what is bowled to them. The variations to an innings are infinite. I don't think you can blanket-plan because everyone's strengths are different and certainly the conditions are all different. Usually the guys make their own decisions and history suggests that they make good decisions."

But during the two days on which England batted during the first Test, which lasted only three, the batsmen repeatedly chose the wrong option. Often, it was as if they had not considered that there were options. If a coach has a role at a time like this it is to clear his players' confused minds and ensure that Ajmal is not already viewed as an irrepressible foe.

The spinner was deadly accurate but turned the ball only minimally. He gave the England batsmen inches and they tried to hit him yards. His skill lies in several areas. Ignore the so-called teesra, which was trumpeted in the ballyhoo before the series. Ajmal has an off-break and a doosra as his prime incisive tools, he has a quick wrist and can also cause hesitation by his apparent stop at the crease with the arm already coming over. But he was too easily gifted wickets by England.

His performance allowed him to move up eight places in the Test bowling rankings yesterday and he is now the top-rated spinner ahead of Graeme Swann, his English off-break counterpart. Since Swann's return of four wickets was perfectly adequate, he might feel badly done to. But Ajmal's was not only the better return, he was awarded extra points for doing it against some of the world's top-rated batsmen.

"I don't want to pretend that scoring Test runs is an easy thing, it's not," said Flower. "People work incredibly hard to get Test runs to put sides in a winning position. However in this instance we badly under-performed with the bat and even though the ball wasn't turning much we didn't deal with it skilfully and we made poor decisions.

"We made it look harder than it was, to be quite frank. Most good spinners bowl a good length and don't give you much to work with. He's a good spinner and he certainly bowled a good length which creates doubt as to whether you should get forward or back."

In Flower's tenure as coach, England have twice come back from catastrophic defeats to win the series, both times against Australia. At Headingley in 2009, they were beaten in three days by an innings and 80 runs but a week later came back to win the Ashes at the Oval. At Perth in 2010, they just took the match into the fourth day in losing by 267 runs and a few days later were all over their opponents in Melbourne.

This is a different problem, however, in completely unfamiliar terrain. If Ajmal is England's chief antagonist, they also have to come to terms with Umar Gul, a master of reverse swing, and Abdur Rehman, a left-arm spinner.

Soon enough, questions will be asked about the form of the England captain, Andrew Strauss. Actually, they were yesterday. Naturally enough Flower parried them, easily enough, because Strauss has scored 11 of his 19 Test hundreds away from England and averages nearly 45.

Strauss and Alastair Cook will open the batting for the 100th time in the second Test, all but double more than any other England pair. They have shared 11 century partnerships and it was only two matches ago that they put on 186 at Edgbaston. But England have lost their first wicket with the score not beyond 10 seven times in the last 11 innings. The team need better starts now or the threat of Ajmal will be the greater.

Being the No 1-ranked team may give England succour in the next few days, though as Flower said: "They don't sit in their rooms, look at themselves in the mirror and say, 'Aren't we good?'"

They will not have looked at the projected rankings either, which show that if they were to lose this series 3-0 and South Africa were to inflict a similar defeat on New Zealand in March the reign at the top would be over before it had begun. Now that would prompt not looking into the mirror but into their souls.

Coach refuses to chuck in his two penn'orth

The chucking row that never was appears to have been buried. England recognise that they were beaten in the first Test because they played Saeed Ajmal like idiots, not because there was anything untoward about his action. It is a talking point, however, and Andy Flower may unwittingly have added to the debate yesterday.

Asked about the action, he said: "I don't think that has got into the guys' heads. Our job is to deal with whatever bowler bowls against us and the ICC's job is to police the game. I've got my own private views and talking about them here and now isn't going to help the situation."

Which led to all manner of speculation, but Flower was not about to be pressed on what precisely he meant. "I repeat what I said, I've got more important matters to think about, and that is getting us ready for the next Test."

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Brendan Rodgers is confident that Sterling will put pen to paper on a new deal at Anfield
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Life and Style
tech
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

Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

Rebranding Christmas

More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up
A Greek island - yours for the price of a London flat

A sun-kissed island - yours for the price of a London flat

Cash-strapped Greeks are selling off their slices of paradise
Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

New system means that evergreen songs could top the festive charts
Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence

Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys

He is a musician of wondrous oddity. He is on a perpetual quest to seek the lost tribes of the Welsh diaspora. Just don't ask Gruff Rhys if he's a national treasure...