Not even in their wildest dreams, could the Barmy Army imagine that just two lads would spoil their desert party.
Just for a moment imagine you are Andrew Strauss, it’s the eve before the third and final test and after all the nets, meetings, strategies and discussions you are finally relaxing your muscles in bed. What could you possibly be thinking, or as I would put it, what not would you want to be thinking. Just three weeks ago you were proudly leading the top team in the world, just like a Roman Centurion marching with his Legions. Ironically, it took two Pakistani warriors just seven days to brutally massacre the great Legion. Tonight, all your fame and triumphs lay buried under the desert sands.
This can be a dejecting feeling. The series is lost along with a chance to avenge the opponent anytime soon. Your gladiators have surrendered twice without a brave fight and with one more test to go, the fear of another calamitous collapse is all you need to drain yourself of a sleepless night.
January 2012 has been a horrible month for Strauss’s men; everything they have thought and done has boomeranged to hit back in their face. The much famed Number 1 position appears to be slipping and with a bunch of batsmen with low morale, the inescapable fear of a 3-0 white-wash catches up on you. Strauss will think hard while trying to solve to the spin riddles, and lastly, look towards the skies for divine help.
I actually feel sorry for Strauss. Sorry, for it never makes for a good show to see a top act fall from grace. But the very next moment that melancholic feeling fizzles away as you realize that the Abu Dhabi debacle was a recipe for self-destruction. After being used to winning, it must have been devastating for a visibly drained Strauss to watch Pakistan enjoy wild celebrations in Abu Dhabi.
How could England perform as bad as they have?
Let’s admit it, for a good three innings of the test, England was in full control. All who have played cricket know that scoring anything around 140+ in the fourth innings, that to on a spin friendly wicket can be a nerve testing grind. Getting Pakistan dismissed for 257 and 214, the English bowlers showed little mercy in injecting their venom. Once again, it was their batsmen who decided to walk blindfolded in the dark tunnel.
145 was demanding, but manageable. I had mentioned in my previous blog that cricket is won in minds, not on the field. That’s exactly what happened with the English Lion in the fourth innings. Being in such a commanding position, the Lion somehow lost its courage to roar. Strauss and Cook let the axe fall on their feet with an unexplainable cagey approach. Managing just 21 from the first 15 overs, they sowed the seeds for collapse.
Maybe they could have picked a trick or two from Broad whose positive knock in the first innings had left Misbah clueless and frustrated; fair to say Misbah at that point had lost the plot. He took the new ball when he shouldn’t have and almost handed victory to England. He’s a defensive captain who wants the opposition to block. But when England let him dictate in the second innings, he was easing off in his rocking chair.
Someone, perhaps Coach Andy Flower needed to remind his batsmen to bring out the Sweep Shot. Interestingly, it was this very sweep that got them in trouble in Dubai when the ball wasn’t turning. But when it did turn in Abu Dhabi, they forgot to bring it. Jimmy Anderson did try his luck with the sweep but by then the match was over but in a way that was Jimmy showing England’s batsmen the smart way to negotiate spin. The English media did complain about Ajmal’s arm action, but they can certainly not blame the pitch. This was no Kandahar minefield. Instead it was the mindset of the English batsmen that brought the chastening defeat.
Saeed-Rehman, Double Trouble for England.
A lot has been said about England’s poor show with the bat, but there’s little mention of how brilliantly Pakistan bowled. Let’s start with Hafiz who has thrice in this series brought the early break. Not only did he dry up runs, but he also forced Cook to play against the spin and grabbed a wonderful dolly. This was the setting tone for Pakistan and paved the way for Ajmal and Saeed to rock the show.
Pakistan cricket has always been surrounded by astounding facts, and the most amazing has been the presence of a match winning bowling pair. Even more surprising is to find a fascinating pair waiting to replace the performing one. It started off with ‘Imran-Sarfaraz’, next in line were the ‘Two W’s’, followed by ‘Shoaib-Razzaq’ and briefly ‘Aamir-Asif.’ Now the latest episode to this sequel is ‘Saeed-Rehman’, but surprisingly for the first time it’s a Spin Combo shouldering this tradition.
Saeed & Rehman are a lethal bowling duo. Put them to work from both ends and they can destroy even the most formidable batting line up on planet Earth. Both are skillful, artistic and courageous bowlers who have for the moment, faded fast bowlers and started to capture young minds. These magical and mysterious men kept playing tricks with the English batsmen and in course engineered a dramatic win. So skillful was their sleight of hand that they might have shouted‘abracadabra’ to the umpires instead of ‘howzat?’
The spot fixing saga cuffed the Aamir-Asif express, but it paved the way for a new winning machine to shine.
What to expect in Dubai?
Dubai is likely to see the same script with some minor changes. Having lost the series England would want to play to safeguard their beloved No. 1 ranking and not to mention the $175,000 reward. Their bowling attack has all the reasons to smile but their abject batting is making a mockery of their World No.1 status. Coach Flower had hinted earlier that the dismantled KP has two more chances. One was exhausted in Abu Dhabi, and Dubai might be his last adventure. In all likelihood, Eoin Morgan appears to be the one to be replaced by the reserve Ravi Bopara. Let’s hope he is the answer to Strauss’s endless prayers.
Stepping in a series with the No. 1 tag seems to be a bad omen for teams. It happened earlier with India and now the English find themselves on the receiving end. Their biggest trouble is that their weaknesses have been exposed. The Indians discovered their vulnerability against the moving and bouncing ball, England finds itself in a similar confusion against spin.
England play seven more matches this year in similar conditions. Unless they don’t figure a solution to their spin confusion, Graeme Smith’s proteases won’t mind capturing their top seat.
Pakistan would go for the kill.
Misbah has nothing to lose, in fact this is his perfect chance to shed off the “Defensive Captain” trademark. With the series pocketed, Misbah should order his troops for an all out charge. If he wins, he creates history by bulldozing the top team with a demoralizing 3-0 white-wash. If he loses, the party doesn’t stop as damage has already been done.
Pakistan has a lot of positive energy coming from the two tests. Younis has had a quiet series, but the openers and middle order have performed when required. After countless prayers, you finally have a dependable keeper, fielding has shown spark and the bowling; well words would fall short to praise their class act. Pakistan should enter the test unchanged and play with a free mind and no pressure. Their only target is to whip the Lion back in its cage.
Fans would have their own way of approaching this match, if you are an English fan you would beg for your pride salvaged, if not, then your eyeballs would search for nothing less than a 3-0 score line. It should be a tough time for the Barmy Army but a good one for Dubai tourism; it’s a happening city with bundles of attraction, much more alluring than the fast building English graves inside the stadium.