Sunday, 29 January 2012

Pakistan Tie England In Knots

Ajmal celebrates the wicket of Ian Bell
Pakistan have won a stunning victory over the world No 1 England at Abu Dhabi and in the process have secured  the series. It was England's first series loss in ten series and continues Pakistan's unbeaten run which goes back to June 2010 and the infamous series in England which gave rise to change in Pakistan's cricket culture.

The architects of that change on the field deserve to take a bow. Mosin Khan as coach and Misbah-ul-haq as captain, have created a culture of careful, studious cricket which does not indulge the irrational and encourages those with sober intent and execution. From being a team based on fast bowling, they have transformed the resources into one which has the world's two best spinners and a very good third prong.

Beginning the day 55 in front, everyone did their bit, especially after Azhar Ali left 170, with a brittle tail adding another 44. Monty Panesar was the best of the English bowlers, taking his tenth five wicket or better haul in his 40th Test. England, it appeared, had done what was needed to square the series, with only 145 required.

Until the doubts set in. It was only a matter of time before his surname and the sub-continent went into effluent confluence and it was announced that Trott had the trotts and would bat lower in the order if required. Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook opened as usual but the first ball was bowled by off spinner Mohammad Hafeez, who had dismissed both of them early doors at times during the series. More doubts. So it was that what was to be Hafeez last over, Cook took a leading edge and sent it back up the pitch for a return catch.

Morgan bowled second ball
Saeed Ajmal had already bowled 4 overs for 5 runs when Abdur Rehman replaced Hafeez. No one else was needed for Pakistan. Ian Bell batted at three but left after three deliveries after playing the ball from Ajmal  down at his feet of the full face of the bat and watching it spin back past his legs and onto middle stump. Pietersen left shaking his head lbw to Rehman, whose appeal convinced to umpires, the technology and the rest of humanity but still left the batsman in disbelief. Morgan knew nothing about the first ball he received which flicked his pads and went for four leg byes and even less about the next one which he went back to and lost his leg stump. At the other end, Strauss was on borrowed time, already out once caught at short leg but given the benfit of an invented doubt by the third umpire. Prior came in and at least tried to play shots.

England were in a vice. The ball was spinning but only by the varying amounts of turn Ajmal and Rehman wanted to extract to set the Englishmen up. The only threat to Pakistan was their over exuberant wicket keeper Adnan Akmal, who seemed convinced every ball was taking a wicket but as usual, Misbah applied his touch and the youngster soon calmed down.

Strauss was eventually lbw to Rehman, playing back and being undone by the pace of the ball spinning back into him. He shook his head all the way to the boundary too but he was plumb. After the loss of the skipper, the rest fell like a card house in a brisk summer breeze as the last five wickets were down in just ten deliveries.

Rehman a career best 6-25
Trott, batting with a series of squirts and dabs, played back deep in his crease and was plumb to Rehman; Stuart Broad was bowled two balls later when he aimed a drive at a ball which spun at least 60cm from outside off and hit the off peg; Graeme Swann went back to an off break from Ajmal and was caught in front; Prior chipped a catch to cover trying to have a go against Ajmal; and Anderson swept at the first ball he received, top edged it and was caught easily by Umar Gul.

Pakistan's spinners had taken 19 of the required 20 wickets to fall and England surrendered the match being all out for 72. It is Pakistan's seventh series victory in 22 series against England and their first since November 2005. Whilst Pakistan have been playing good cricket, England is their biggest scalp since drawing a series with South Africa in the UAE in November 2010.

Like the first Test, this win was based on steady batting and the accumulation of runs, athletic fielding and tight bowling which eventually strangles the batting side and draws them into error. Both Rehman and Ajmal are masters of this art.

The final Test begins in Dubai on February 3rd.