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England suffer a crash landing against Pakistan after claiming No 1 spot in Tests

Abdur Rehman (centre)'s six wicket haul in the second innings set up Pakistan's improbable victory © AFP
Abdur Rehman (centre)’s six wicket haul in the second innings set up Pakistan’s improbable victory © AFP

 

After going through 10 series without being defeated, England were shell-shocked by Pakistan in UAE in 2011-12. Bharath Ramaraj looks back at the second Test played at Abu Dhabi between England and Pakistan.

 

After bestriding the then No 1 ranked Test side India at home in 2011, England embarked on a desert safari to play Pakistan in United Arab Emirates (UAE) brimming with confidence. Yes, there was always the impending threat of wily spinners, Saeed Ajmal with his mystery delivery, the doosra and the metronomic accuracy of Abdur Rehman taking wickets on tracks that would aid spin. Pakistan had an enviable record in their adopted home,UAE ,too. They hadn’t lost a series there since Australia, at the peak of their prowess thumped them back in 2002. However, England were still expected to put up a good show in UAE.

 

Now, cricket is a game full of glorious uncertainties. What transpired during that series was England’s batsmen with fine records on paper walking back to the pavilion one after another like they were involved in a march past. Ajmal with his doosra made them dance to his tunes. There were occasions when it seemed like England’s batsmen had lost the mental battle to Ajmal.

 

England lost the first Test heavily by an innings. But in the second Test, led by their redoubtable bowlers in Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar gave England more than a glimmer of hope, as they dismissed Pakistan for 257. Both Broad and Anderson bowled parsimoniously and dried up the runs. The spinners, Swann and Panesar complemented each other well by sharing four wickets between them. Panesar was bound to be a weapon for captain Andrew Strauss while right-handed batsmen were at the crease. Swann with his under cutter and exemplary control from around the wicket made merry against southpaws of Pakistan.

 

Only the ever dependable captain of Pakistan, Misbah-ul Haq and Asad Shafiq were able to weather the storm and essay half-centuries.

 

Initially, England’s batsmen showed plenty of grit and self belief and as result, they found themselves in a position from where they could dictate terms. Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott in an unhurried fashion clinically accumulated runs with eagle-like eyes. Both strong on the on side and having infinite patience got stuck into Pakistan’s spinners. Even Ajmal’s head turning doosras seemed ineffective. Just when both were motoring along, Trott got out. He stayed back to a delivery from Rehman that turned away from him a touch to take out the off-stump.

 

Cook and Kevin Pietersen seemed to have taken England to safety when the dangerman Ajmal started to make them feel the heat. Cook was done in by Ajmal’s doosra and Pietersen tried to play with the turn though his favourite run scoring area , the on side, only to get an edge to slip fielder, Mohammad Hafeez. Right at the close of the day’s play a shaky looking Eoin Morgan was gone too. Ajmal suddenly had ripped the heart of English batting line-up.

 

On the crucial third day, Broad’s calculated pyrotechnics soothed the tangle of nerves in the English dressing room, as they took a healthy lead of 70 runs on a wicket that had started to take turn. When spin twins, Panesar and Swann reduced Pakistan to 54 for four, England was certainly the side in ascendancy. Just in nick of time though, Azhar Ali and Asad stonewalled England’s bowling by stitching a partnership of 88 runs. If it wasn’t for an effort ball from Anderson with the new ball where he hit the deck hard to extract bounce and get movement off the pitch to catch the edge of Azhar’s willow, he could have very well essayed a century. Yes, one is thinking about the same Anderson who is believed to have never got seam movement in his career, as per some cricket pundits.

 

Pakistan’s tail-enders took the score to 214 and England were left with chasing a paltry total of 145. England’s batsmen though, seemed paralysed and were glued to the crease. Batting isn’t just about spending time in the middle, but also putting runs on the board. Even rotation of strike helps in moving your feet and frustrates the bowlers to no end. England’s batsmen had forgotten all of that. After batting for 14 overs, Cook was dismissed by Hafeez. It was a nothing shot really, as he just tapped it back to the bowler, while trying to turn it to the on side. Ian Bell played as though he was batting on a wicket made up of common Indian Kraits and King Cobras, and soon paid the price by losing his wicket to Ajmal. Both Pietersen and Morgan were done in by deliveries that skidded on from Rehman. In fact, Morgan didn’t have any clue about the delivery from Rehman and helplessly watched his stumps being shattered.

 

Matt Prior and Strauss tried to resurrect the innings, but to no avail. Once Strauss lost his wicket to a rather marginal lbw decision, it was a procession of wickets at Abu Dhabi. Trott coming down the order due to a stomach bug was out plumb in front to Rehman. Incredibly, England were bowled in the next two overs and ended up with 72 runs on the board. Their lowest score against Pakistan and comfortably worse than the 130 they made against Pakistan in 1954 at Oval. If it was seamers Fazal Mahmood and Mohammad Hussain who were the heroes in 1954, spinners Ajmal and Rehman hogged the limelight at Abu Dhabi. In this Test at Abu Dhabi, they shared 15 of the 20 England wickets.

 

What followed?

 

Despite another heart-wrenching performance from the English bowlers in the final Test of the series, they were whitewashed 3-0 by Pakistan. It was nothing less than a crash landing with a huge thud  for a team that had scaled to No 1 in Test rankings. The Pakistan team celebrated long and hard after a truly gut-busting performance. The England team got nothing less than brickbats for their poor showing.

 

Brief scores:

 

Pakistan 257 (Misbah ul-Haq 84, Asad Shafiq 58; James Anderson 2 for 46, Stuart Broad 4 for 47,  Graeme Swann 3 for 52) and 214 (Azhar Ali 68; Monty Panesar 6 for 62, Graeme Swann 2 for 66) beat England 327 (Alastair Cook 94, Jonathan Trott 74, Stuart Broad 58; Mohammad Hafeez 3 for 54, Saeed Ajmal 4 for 108, Abdur Rehman 2 for 67) and 72 (Andrew Strauss 32; Saeed Ajmal 3 for 22, Abdur Rehman 6 for 25) by 72 runs.

 

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)

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