Dubai, third Test, day one

I feel a bit like I’m listening to a set of variations on a theme with England in this series. Specifically this would be Strauss’s ‘Variations on a theme of having the bowlers do all the work’. Once again they performed outstandingly well, Stuart Broad in particular. He bowled quickly and on a good length getting the ball to nip back a bit and was rewarded with four wickets. Jimmy bowled similarly and picked up three. Pakistan did not play them entirely comfortably, and some of the shots were truly dreadful, but take nothing away from Broad and Anderson; they were fantastic. Pakistan were bowled out for 99 one ball after the midway point of the day. It was exactly how England needed to respond to the defeat in Abu Dhabi and were it any other series (the Ashes, say) one would think that the match was decided then and there. But nothing on this tour is that simple. There was a point at which even a first innings lead did not look a given, as Cook and Trott went early to leave the score 7-2. Eventually Strauss did guide the side to 104-6 at stumps.

England were a bit more unfortunate in the batting collapse this time. Cook was out to an uncharacteristic waft, but Trott was LBW to a ball that was going down leg, but Strauss decided not to review it. Strauss has been a very good judge of these in the past (and this is the one area in which England have comprehensively outplayed Pakistan in the series, Pakistan have had a tendency to throw their reviews away) and this did not sound like a bad decision originally, but as it transpired the ball was going down leg. Still, one could say it was poetic justice for Trott’s similar reprieve at Abu Dhabi. KP was either completely done by technology with shocker of an LBW decision or missed a straight-ish one from the left arm spin of Rehman, depending on one’s opinion on DRS. He got forward to the spinner and was given out on the field. He reviewed and the replay had the ball just clipping the stumps so he stayed out. He was furious and there were many who were unhappy with the decision and the DRS, but I thought it was fair. Once again, it was given out on the field, so the DRS did not give him out and the ball was clipping the stumps, so the decision was clearly not a terrible one. It was disappointing especially as KP had played very well for his 32, but he was not hard done by the decision. It was a blow for England as Strauss then went into his shell again and Bell was having his usual trouble picking Ajmal. He probably only lasted as long as he did because Strauss had been protecting him, but his dismissal was the most unfortunate of all of England’s. He was stumped off the keeper’s pads and only by a proverbial kitten’s whisker. It actually required Akmal to miss the ball (not difficult) and then get a perfect ricochet off the pads. If Prior had been behind the timbers it would have been not out, simply by virtue of the fact that he would have taken the ball cleanly.

There was some hope, however, that the other batsmen would have seen KP’s success getting on the front foot and playing straight and follow suit. Morgan even hit a straight six, but normal service was resumed soon enough. He played back, was hit in front and given out on review. It was a simple and predictable dismissal, but still infuriating. KP showed how to play and Morgan showed that he could play the way we needed, and then failed to carry on. Morgan is now one of the players who falls into my ‘never want to see playing for England again’ category. It’s not a permanent classification, some time playing county cricket could do him the world of good, but right now I’d rather see Monty selected as a specialist batsman than Morgan. (Bopara is also on the list, it should be pointed out.) Prior also missed a straight one, but was actually bowled instead of LBW. It didn’t require a review, obviously, but did serve to demonstrate the fact that when a ball only clips the stumps it is out! (Somehow I think the lesson was lost on KP and a few others, however.) Interestingly, James Anderson went out as a nightwatchman for Stuart Broad. In a way it makes sense; Anderson can bat and Broad has been one of our best batsmen in the series. Jimmy did his job for the second time in the day and England only lost six wickets.

For Pakistan, 99 all out doesn’t look good, but at one point they were 44-7. It was once again Asad Shafiq who frustrated England, scoring an excellent 45. He alone of the Pakistanis looked comfortable and was only dismissed looking for runs to keep the strike. Mohammad Hafeez looked decent, however and seemed to think himself unlucky to be given out LBW. He clearly felt that he had got an inside edge, as did Simon Taufel, but not the third umpire and he had to go. He and KP will have something about which to talk, possibly when they run into each other outside the match referee’s office later.

In 88 overs of play today 203 runs were scored for the loss of 16 wickets. It’s especially surprising given that most of the people who saw the pitch before the day started saw it as a flat batting surface. David Lloyd called it a 400 pitch and it looked for all the world like a great toss to win. It puts the match in a similar situation as in the last Test, with England wanting a big lead to compensate for batting last. The interesting thing this time is that the pitch is still not a minefield and the fourth innings may be played on the third day. That won’t help England with regard to their mental block about spin bowling, but it does mean that they may not have any additional problems from this innings. Still, it looks like once again we are relying on the bowlers to score runs and then bowl Pakistan out cheaply.

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