England On The Back Foot

“I felt it was better to play him off the front foot.”

Those were the words of Nick Compton, who made 95 against Saeed Ajmal and his Worcestershire team-mates last July, when the Pakistani mystery man was turning his arm over for the Pears.

Eoin Morgan

Morgan goes back to a ball from Abdur Rehman and is bowled. Credit: Action Images / Paul Childs Livepic

Somerset racked up 591/9 before declaring and went on to win the game. Ajmal ended with five for 150 from his 51 overs.

“I stood on off-stump and looked to play very straight,” Compton added. “Ajmal’s not a big spinner of the ball and his main weapon is pace through the air, and I felt it was better to play him off the front foot. (He also used the sweep to great effect). The fact that he can skid it on and it might not bounce as much or go the other way, if you sit back I think you’re guessing and you haven’t got as much time to react.”

England might consider those words as they reflect on the wreckage of back-to-back defeats against an Ajmal-inspired Pakistan.

Granted – the pitch at New Road was a good deal flatter than those in Dubai, and particularly in Abu Dhabi. Granted – it was Abdur Rehman who caused the bulk of the damage this time around. Nevertheless the point still stands.

England were rooted on the back foot and seemed loathe to do anything that might be construed as a ‘lunge’ lest they incur the wrath of the traveling press. Gone were the days of Duncan Fletcher’s forward press, the Sky commentary team’s ’beloved’ sweep shot, or the advance down the pitch to meet the ball like a man. Instead we were greeted with the sight of one after another of England’s batsmen giving the impression of being perched on a shooting stick.

Ajmal and Rehman both bowl with relatively low arms, and, for spinners, relatively quickly. The pitches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are not renowned for their excessive or uneven bounce. The situation cried out for sweep – even the reverse sweep. Instead the Englishmen were paralysed with fear.

When the Pakistanis batted they used the sweep, only sparingly admittedly, but they paid heed to the another of Compton’s well-reasoned points – play straight. Misbah-ul-Haq walloped Panesar over long-on on a couple of occasions, while over-pitched deliveries from both Swann and Panesar alike were drilled down the ground.

Maybe England need to re-think their method against spin. It shouldn’t be too hard. Their coach, Andy Flower, was one of the finest players of spin bowling around and I seem to remember he was rather partial to the odd sweep shot too

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