Abu Dhabi, day two

I am not happy. I should be happy, the first 83 per cent or so of the day went better than I had hoped. Even at my most optimistic I did not dare dream that Pakistan’s tail would last only 16 balls this morning whilst adding just one run and the notion that England would at one point be 200-3 was a best case scenario. Both of those things happened, yet I am not happy because all that good work was thrown away at the end of the day.

Cook and Trott batted superbly after Strauss was dismissed early and put on 139 together, and even when Trott was out to a good ball KP seemed to have his head together and batted well with Cook. The problem came after Cook was dismissed. Pakistan bowled very well, but all of England’s patience suddenly vanished with Cook. At a stroke they went back to being absolutely brainless against the spinning ball and both KP and Morgan departed to needless, stupid shots just before close of play. Morgan’s was particularly bad; there is never a good time for a lame prod outside off stump, but to the penultimate ball of the day is worse than most. It leaves England still 50 runs adrift at the end of the day, but now with the last ‘recognised’ pair at the crease. The way England have played spin so far (like a chicken sans head), suggests that they will not want to chase many in the fourth innings. They have a chance to make sure that they don’t (and actually had a chance to make sure that there wasn’t a fourth innings) but now are going to have to look to the tail for runs again. Broad and Swann (and Jimmy to a lesser extent) batted well in Dubai and they are certainly capable, but they had the advantage there of the pressure being off. I would not discount them, but nor do I want to rely on them when every run is vital.

Flower and Strauss must now also take a serious look at who bats at number six; Eoin Morgan is simply not a Test batsman. He may do very well in the one-day arena, but he does not have the temperament to bat at the highest level. It is a point I have made before, but he only scores runs when England already have a big score and don’t need them. When he comes in with the side under pressure he fails as well and is often outscored by a bowler. As successful as England have been with four bowlers, with Morgan it has left us effectively playing with ten men. (And it is a testament to the skill of those ten that England have tended to win regardless.) Now it is starting to hurt though and something must change. Morgan’s failure in this innings has put England in a situation where they will have to skittle Pakistan in the second innings, but with only four bowlers. Unfortunately, England have no batting cover on this tour (Bopara does not count. Ever.) so unless they want to finally play five bowlers I expect Morgan will get another Test. When England play the first Test in Sri Lanka in March, however, I hope to see Prior at six and Bresnan at seven.

The match is now well set up for the next three days, but that will be small consolation for England. The chance was there to bat Pakistan out of the match, but KP and Morgan have all but thrown it away. England’s hope will be that the tail wags again. Of the batsmen who played in the first Test, the five who will still bat scored 58 per cent of England’s runs in that match. Admittedly that’s not a lot, but it was an average of 100 runs in each innings. If they can replicate that they will have a workable, if not great first innings lead. The best case scenario is that Bell settles down and makes a good score with Prior and the tailenders can have a go after lunch. That is probably the only way England will meet or go past their target of 350. What looks most likely is that we will be bowling again well before tea and relying on the bowlers to knock them over for under 200. It can be done, but it’s a sorry state from where we were at the last drinks interval.

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