Friday, January 27, 2012

Half Way Through

After cleaning up the visitors for 327 with 9 of the wickets belonging to the spinners, the hosts trailed by exactly 70 going into the critical 3rd innings which could make or break the outcome of this Abu Dhabi test.

Andrew Strauss’s woes continued as a tentative prod against Mohammad Hafeez brought his downfall as the ball ballooned up in the air for the simplest of catches for Asad Shafiq under the helmet as the England captain departed. Cook and Trott got together and piled on over 100 for 2nd wicket with an antirational approach at the crease as they grinded and nudged the ball around and dug hard to provide some direction and stability to the innings with an effective left right combination. However, Trott was denied a 3 figure score as the slow left arm spin of Rehman foxed him with a splendid delivery that castled Trott. Cook was removed on 94 when he decided not to go upstairs for a DRS when Ajmal spun one back into the pads for an LBW from a doosra delivered from over the wicket just shortly after he had been whipped on the back foot through mid wicket and mid on by Cook for a well timed boundary.

Ian Bell who was struggling to read Ajmal looked scratchy and was beaten regularly by sharp turn and bounce, but managed to stay to the end, but down the other end KP drove loosely to an off break and got an inside edge which popped up from the boot to slip where Hafeez held on. Eoin Morgan was in a tangle against Ajmal unsure of the spin imparted outside the off stump as he looked to defend tentatively and was on his way back to the pavilion in the final over of the day as a dismissed batsmen as Ajmal struck in the final over of the day with an off break which found the edge as Hafeez claimed yet another catch in the slip.

England went in to day 5 50 behind with 5 wickets left in the tank as Prior and Bell resumed proceedings. Prior was dropped at deep square leg in the early phases of day 5 by Junaid Khan who dropped a dolly, but soon perished as he pressed back to a sharp turning Ajmal off break as he was dismissed in similar fashion to what happened in Dubai last week as Ajmal got his 4th of the innings and 14th of the series.

Broad came in and looked positive and dangerous immediately as he got off the mark with a paddle sweep to the very first delivery he faced and looked to take the bowlers on with selective and powerful hitting, unafraid to go over the top. The Nottinghamshire bowling all rounder raced to a timely half century at approximately a run a ball to take England well into the lead with an attacking counter attack. However, Bell fell when Misbah finally decided to take the 2nd new ball before that with one nipping back off the seam as Bell reviewed unsuccessfully. Swann played some cracking strokes through the off side against Junaid who was ineffective and unimpressive, but his stay was short lived as Rehman got him with a straighter one which would have undoubtedly gone on to hit to stumps as Swann was dismissed by spin for the 3rd time in the series. James Anderson managed to survive until tea and played some surprisingly fine strokes against the hard-to-pick Ajmal, allowing Broad to extend his counter attack even further as Strauss’s men were 66 in front at lunch with 2 wickets left and Broad looking in sublime touch still there as 112 were added in a productive and critical session.

Nonetheless, Hafeez completed the job by dismissing the two tail ended left handers from around the wicket to strengthen his formidable tendency of getting left handers as the bulk of his scalps even more.

The pitch here in Abu Dhabi has surprised quite a few and provided appreciative turn and purchase for the slower men which is expected to get progressively worst and harder for batting. Some deliveries are kicking off and going square, literally. It’s made an intriguing and fascinating contest from what was supposedly meant to be an unresponsive track and the curator deserves to be applauded for preparing a fine sporting wicket. Anything above 200 will be tricky and examining to chase down in the 4th innings and 250-300 in front and the hosts will certainly be favourites to go 2 up and subsequently seal the series. However, they must bat with character in the 3rd innings and avoiding getting blown away by the balanced and penetrative English attack and bat for at least 3.5 and preferably 4 sessions and reach the 130 over mark to get at least 300 on the board. Even 10 or 15 over 200 will give them somewhat of a sniff. Ideally, 350 would be great with just around a day to bowl out England. A total of 400 will really send the chances of an England win out of the window and would be a dream total. The likes of Younis and Azhar need to stand up and make an impression like they did throughout 2011 as they are the only two batsmen who are yet to score a half century in the series from the Pakistan top 6 and both were expected to do well against England, Younis in particular. The inform batsmen and captain Misbah ul Haq who has 3 successive test 50s will need to continue his successful run in the middle order. The tail who all had 0s next to their name from 8-11 will need to take a leaf out of England’s book and show some resistance as their contributions can be vital with 15, 20s, 30s. They for sure will need an improved display and not let England rattle them so easily. The key for the batsmen will be all about being positive and precise in their foot work and defence, using their bat as much as possible and picking up on the subtleties from the finger spinners to avoid LBWs, taking on the bowlers every now and against just to remind them that they are serious about winning so they can break the shackles and occupy the crease easier and perhaps even push the field back and judging the length well against the English seamers and not getting enticed into those loose drives and understanding the bounce of the surface properly. They will need to deal with the mental stress being implied with bat pads who will be chirping away with plenty of noise.

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