Sunday 22 January 2012

Pakistan v England 2nd Test Preview - Abu Dhabi

England's cricketers returned to training yesterday for an unscheduled session in Abu Dhabi, on what should have been the fifth and final day of the first Test in Dubai. The mystery spin of Pakistan's Saeed Ajmal and the renewed struggles of English batsmen on Asian pitches had put paid to any possibility of that a whole two days prior as Pakistan romped to a ten wicket win, and many reports are suggesting that the England coaching staff wasted no time in putting their charges through a rigorous session. Not so much as punishment to the players, but as a sharp reminder that they are here to win Test matches, sustain their world number one ranking and that a Test series win in Asian conditions is perhaps the one obstacle separating this side from English cricketing immortality.

Of course, to do so, England know that their batting simply has to stand up better to Pakistan's trio of spin bowlers. Of the 20 England wickets taken in the first Test at Dubai, all but five fell to spin, with Jonathan Trott the sole England batsman to be removed by pace in both innings.

Merlyn - can it imitate Ajmal?
Enter 'Merlyn'. This infamous machine, capable of bowling a variety of spinning deliveries to batsmen in the nets, was initially designed to combat the genius of a certain SK Warne during the 2005 Ashes series in England. Now, England have shipped it out to Abu Dhabi, where hours of practice will no doubt be endured by England's top order in preparation for round two with Saeed Ajmal when hostilities resume this coming Wednesday. England, as you probably know, went on to win that historic series in 2005, but whether Merlyn can provide the same effect this time around remains to be seen. One thing is for sure; England will be hard pressed to perform any more incompetently against Pakistan's spinners than they did in Dubai.

There is however one key difference between the use of Merlyn in this current series and the Ashes series of 2005; Warne extracted prodigious turn from almost any wicket he played on, whereas Ajmal actually turns the ball very little. It would appear, then, that the deceit lies in the flight of the ball after leaving the hand. How much Merlyn can hope to replicate that remains to be seen, but I'd suggest that it may prove rather difficult, and thus allow Ajmal to keep his title of 'mystery spinner' intact.

Many of England's spin induced batting problems in Dubai stemmed from their apparent tendency to get caught in two minds. The indecision as to whether to play forward or back to Ajmal's deliveries invariably resulted in many of the batsmen, perhaps Matt Prior and Jonathan Trott aside, to play almost half-forward, tentative strokes that left them more than susceptible to the doosra. In Abu Dhabi, a greater degree of conviction is no doubt required. England's number nine batsman, Graeme Swann, highlighted this particular necessity when playing authoritatively against Ajmal in each of his innings, and with far greater success than many of the illustrious batsmen above him. Pakistan and Ajmal, it would seem, don't like being attacked; a handful of aggressive shots from Swann saw the field drop back and the threat posed by Pakistan's man of the moment significantly reduced. Calculated risk may just be the order of the day for England's top order batsmen; allowing Ajmal to bowl at them simply won't do.

Not a huge amount is known about the nature of the pitch in Abu Dhabi, though there has been plenty of talk suggesting it to be even flatter than the batsman's paradise of Dubai. Make no bones about it, England's batsmen had no business being bundled out for two vastly sub-par totals in Dubai, and any hint of complacency should now have been well and truly banished. What they must contend with now, however, is the added pressure to post a big first innings total under the scrutiny of the cricketing world, and to prove that they do indeed belong at the summit of the ICC Test rankings. As for England's bowlers, more of the same is required. To remove Pakistan for a still below par 338 was a more than acceptable effort given the nature of the pitch, and the bowling unit should carry none of the demons that their batting counterparts can expect to have with them.

As for selection, one would have to imagine that Pakistan will stay unchanged after the emphatic nature of their victory in Dubai. For England, there are calls typically ranging from the wholesale replacement of the batting line-up, captain and coaching staff to the suggestion that Monty Panesar might be an effective pick. Under the guidance of Team Director Andy Flower, consistency has been the key word, and to envisage any more than perhaps one change is rather optimistic. There would appear to be two viable options, both involving the replacement of Chris Tremlett. One would be to replace the economic but ineffective Tremlett with Panesar, which at this point is probably the most likely change, with a further option being to introduce the additional pace of Steven Finn to the attack in place of Tremlett in an attempt to take the benign pitch out of the equation somewhat. England, as is their wont, will keep their cards close to their chests until the day of the match when conditions have been thoroughly assessed.

This series has just got all the more interesting, and England's first real test as the number one ranked side in world cricket is well and truly upon them. All eyes are on their batsmen, and you simply have to imagine that they will make a better fist of things this time around. Have they learnt from their mistakes in Dubai? Will Merlyn have had an effect, or will the mystery spin of Saeed Ajmal continue to leave them bamboozled? It is all very intriguing and makes for a great spectacle, but my official prediction for the second Test in Abu Dhabi is: Draw. 

No comments:

Post a Comment