England undone by excellent Ajmal
Saeed Ajmal showed England exactly what they will be up against in the United Arab Emirates with a stunning seven-wicket haul for Pakistan on day one of the first Test in Dubai.
The tourists, in their first series since rising to the top of the International Cricket Council Test rankings, were grateful for a battling unbeaten 70 from wicketkeeper-batsman Matt Prior as they scraped their way to 192 all out after captain Andrew Strauss had opted to make first use of a benign surface.
Pakistan played out the remaining 15 overs to reach stumps on 42 without loss, and will now harbour high hopes of gaining a substantial first-innings lead in this opening encounter of three.
It was not extravagant turn that confounded the tourists today, rather the subtle variations of flight and pace employed by Pakistan’s premier spinner, who removed Strauss, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen in the space of five balls prior to lunch en route to career-best figures of 7-55.
Bell, beaten by a superb doosra first ball, could do little about his dismissal, yet many of his top-order colleagues will be frustrated at the way they were ousted by deliveries that simply went on with the arm.
Five of Ajmal’s seven victims were trapped leg before, the affable 34-year-old - who had talked up his own chances of success prior to the series - gaining clear reward for threatening the stumps on a regular basis.
It was left to Prior, who arrived at the crease with the scoreboard reading 43 for five, to marshal a revival of sorts, and he demonstrated admirable defensive qualities for much of his innings before wisely unveiling a wider array of strokes in the presence of the tail.
Graeme Swann - selected as his team’s solitary frontline spinner - contributed 34 to a valuable eighth-wicket stand of 57, and a further 41 was added following his departure, but England still appeared some way short of a sufficient total on a pitch offering minimal assistance to the bowlers.
That notion was subsequently strengthened as Mohammad Hafeez and Taufeeq Umar made it through to the close on 22 and 18 respectively, having been relatively untroubled by England’s attack.
Hafeez was the more aggressive of the two, typified by a lofted four down the ground off Swann, who will surely be key to England’s hopes of working their way back into the match.
After Umar Gul and Aizaz Cheema had struggled to make an impact with the new ball this morning, it was no surprise to see Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq turn to spin as early as the sixth over.
The move paid immediate dividends as Hafeez had Alastair Cook, looking to cut a delivery too close to his body, caught behind for three from his third delivery.
Jonathan Trott began his innings in assured fashion, but soon departed for 17. Wicketkeeper Adnan Akmal again completed the dismissal, this time courtesy of a superb catch down the leg side after Trott had got the finest of touches as he looked to glance an innocuous delivery off his hips.
Ajmal then took centre stage, bowling Strauss, who failed to pick the length as he attempted to pull one that skidded on to take off stump, in his first over and then having Bell, passed fit after injuring his wrist in the nets yesterday, caught behind via a faint edge.
Pietersen swiftly followed when he played across the line of a straight ball and was given out lbw following a Pakistan review.
At that point, Ajmal had figures of 3-1 from 10 balls and the off-spinner almost struck again prior to lunch, only for Adnan to miss a tricky stumping chance offered by Eoin Morgan.
The Irish left-hander and Prior survived the remainder of the morning session and provided England with a semblance of much-needed momentum after the interval, Morgan collecting off-side fours off Gul and Ajmal.
However, Ajmal wasted little time in cutting short the revival, trapping Morgan leg before for 27 with another delivery that did not turn before removing Stuart Broad in similar fashion. Both batsmen were unsuccessful in their use of the Decision Review System.
Swann could have become a sixth victim for Ajmal had Adnan not spilled a difficult chance off the inside edge.
Worryingly for England given the performance of their top order, there appeared to be few demons in the pitch and both Prior and Swann had few problems in seeing off Cheema and Gul when they returned for their respective third spells.
An increasingly assured Swann also lofted Abdur Rehman over mid-on for four, having earlier played a similar shot over the off side against Ajmal.
Another confident stroke from the Nottinghamshire man, through wide mid-off, then brought up the fifty partnership in the first over after tea.
Yet there was nothing Swann could do when Rehman produced a wonderful delivery that spun past the outside edge before striking the top of off stump.
Prior, by this stage keen to keep the strike whenever possible, continued to hold firm and duly moved to 50 from 115 balls, but Ajmal was soon back in the thick of the action, winning further lbw verdicts against Chris Tremlett and James Anderson to ensure England failed to reach 200.