Prior acknowledges Ajmal threat
Matt Prior admitted England would have to find a way to combat Saeed Ajmal if they are to win the Test series with Pakistan.
The spinner took a career-best 7-55 as England were dismissed for 192 on the first day in Dubai, with only Prior’s unbeaten 70 offering any serious resistance.
“It’s been a tough day,” Prior said. “We haven’t performed as we’d have wanted to.
“It’s obviously a pretty good batting surface. A mixture of some poor shots, to be honest, and also a bit of luck [was to blame].
“[We’re] looking forward to tomorrow; it’s going to be a huge day for us. We’ve been in this position before, we’ve fought hard and come back so there’s no reason we can’t do it again.”
On the challenge of facing Ajmal, Prior added: “He’s got the variations. Any spin bowler that spins it both ways is tricky.
“His wrist is pretty quick when he delivers the ball so it’s quite tough to pick him at times and that obviously plays on batters’ minds. We’ve got to find a way of dealing with him a lot better than we did today.
“You look at the wrist very hard. You won’t pick every ball but hopefully you pick most, and if you’re not then, on a wicket like that, it’s important just to play straight.”
Prior discounted the theory that England were fazed by the hype about Ajmal’s mystery deliveries during the build-up to this series.
“I don’t think he got in our heads,” Prior added. “Obviously, we spoke about him because he’s a big threat. I don’t think it’s a case of us over-thinking or fearing - we just didn’t quite get it right. He bowled well. Hats off to him.”
Ajmal himself was naturally delighted with his finest day in cricket.
“It’s the best performance of my life,” he said. “I bowled wicket to wicket, and there were a few bad shots as well.
“There was low bounce, and some of them played cross-bat shots. We’re not surprised. We’ve been working on a plan, and we’ve bowled them out as per the plan.”
Ajmal clearly enjoys facing England. He followed up his best Test batting - 50 in the second innings at Edgbaston on Pakistan’s 2010 tour - by reaching another pinnacle today.
“I am very happy because today is the best bowling of my career,” he added. “I just tried to bowl line and length, bowl at middle stump and bowl a little bit low.
“I have my best bowling against England, my best batting against England so I’m happy. They are the number one team and I put in a good performance.”
Four of his victims were left-handers, whom he has sought to target.
“I have been working with my coaches, bowling at left-handers, and I proved it today,” he reflected.
Pakistan were 42 without loss at stumps as Mohammad Hafeez and Taufeeq Umar looked untroubled in negotiating 15 overs.
Despite that, Prior felt England still had a good chance of getting back into the game.
“There’s no reason why not,” he said. “It’s a pretty good deck. First and foremost we’re going to have to bowl well, bowl them out cheaply. It’s important we don’t chase the game too much. It’s going to be a big patience day tomorrow.”
Prior’s innings was a triumph of self-discipline, the natural strokemaker restricting himself to three boundaries from 154 balls.
“I played very straight and was very watchful, and that’s maybe the way we have to look at it,” he added.
“It’s all very well going out and trying to get on the top of the bowlers. But this is just a reminder that sub-continental cricket is slightly more attritional, and you have to play the long game.
“He (Ajmal) didn’t bowl anything that we weren’t prepared for, weren’t expecting. He just had a good day. Cricketers are allowed to do that.
“I think the batters will hold their hands up and say, ‘Right, we didn’t quite get it right today. Maybe we played a few cross-batted shots when perhaps we needed to play straight’.
“But look around that room, we’ve got a class batting outfit. One bad day at the office doesn’t suddenly turn that all round. It’s not all panic stations.”