Dubai, first Test, day one

I had waited five months for today. There were times at which that wait was agonising. It wasn’t too bad at first, in September when I had the climax of the County Championship to watch, and it was mostly just irritating in October when there wasn’t any cricket to watch. But by the time we got to the end of November and it had been three months since I had seen England play, with nothing but two South Africa v Australia Tests for sustenance, the fact that today was still eight weeks away seemed borderline unbearable. So to say that today was disappointing is an understatement. I have not seen England play that poorly for quite some time; I think even the performance in Perth may have been better. To be bowled out for 192 on a placid pitch was an incredible feat of incompetence. It’s the sort of thing I expect to see from India, but we are supposed to be better than that.

The England batsmen were almost entirely culpable in their own demise. Only Bell, who got a gem first up, and Trott who was strangled down the leg side can have any excuse. The rest played uncharacteristically poor shots and did not seem to learn anything from the batsmen that were dismissed before them. Cook, Strauss, KP and Morgan all batted like they had never seen this kind of bowling before, but there was nothing that special about it. Even I, who play a handful of times a year with whomever I can convince to join me, have seen a ball that’s supposed to turn and doesn’t. (Quite a few of them, actually.) Last winter that was Xavier Doherty’s stock ball and KP smashed him out of the park. The difference here seemed to be purely psychological. They played the reputation of the pitch and of the bowler instead of the actual delivery and once the collapse started they seemed to be overwhelmed by a collective suicide instinct. It was pathetic, especially on the first day of a series, but it does happen occasionally. It took Prior and Swann to show just how benign the pitch was, as they added fifty for the eighth wicket before Swann finally was bowled by an unplayable delivery. Before that, however, Swann made 34 by hitting with a mostly straight bat back down the ground. With the ball not turning appreciably it was a very low risk strategy and it should not have taken until the number nine batsman to work it out. The batsman who will hold his head highest will be Matt Prior. Whilst everyone fell around him he stayed calm, accumulated for a while, and then got a bit more expansive with the tail to score an unbeaten seventy. If the rest of the batsmen had played even close to as well England would be looking at 500.

For Eoin Morgan the day must be doubly disappointing. Before the match I and several others had suggested that he be dropped for a bowler. He is one of the best players of spin in the side, though, and he had a golden opportunity to play a big innings and cement his place at number six, both against a fifth bowler and against a younger batsman like James Taylor. He batted well with Prior to put on about forty and then played an insane sweep that if he’d been watching the other dismissals he ought to have known wouldn’t work. He was lbw for 24 and with the way Swann and even Jimmy Anderson batted there will certainly be more questions about whether he is worth keeping at number six.

The bright side for England is that because the collapse was so self-inflicted there’s a good chance that it won’t happen again. England under Strauss and Flower have had the occasional dramatic first innings collapse that has cost us a Test match, but have come back well every time. Flower is not the sort of coach to let the basic errors that were on display happen without making an adjustment. It’s not clear if it will happen by the second innings of this match, but the fact that England collapsed today does not mean very much for the rest of the series. It’s worth mentioning too that the last time England collapsed was not in Perth or Jo’burg, but at Trent Bridge. We got about thirty more then, but put up 500 in the second innings to win. A repeat performance isn’t likely, but we do know the batsmen are capable. The problem, however, is that when the previous collapses have turned to defeats they have all brought the series level at 1-1. If England lose here, however, they will be 0-1 down with only two matches to play and on surfaces on which Pakistan can shut up shop. It may be very difficult to even force a draw in the series if England lose here.

It is far from given that England will lose, however, though it certainly looks grim. England have only bowled a handful of overs against the Pakistan openers, but Jimmy already got the ball to swing and beat the bat. The seamers usually get the most out of the pitch in the morning, when there is a bit of moisture still about, and with the ball still quite new England could yet do a bit of damage. The goal right now must be to keep Pakistan under 300. It is possible, though it will be difficult and some luck will be required. England are masters at plugging away relentlessly until the batsmen make an error though and that skill will be invaluable tomorrow. Even a deficit of 150 might be surmountable if the batsmen play better in the second innings. Given that Pakistan tend to bat slowly, even a huge first innings deficit will not leave England a lot of time to bat out. I’m looking forward to seeing how we fare tomorrow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s