Cook: Advantage England
Today was England’s despite Saeed Ajmal’s three late wickets, according to Alastair Cook.
The spinner’s trio of scalps for nine runs dented what had been an outstanding day two of the second Test for Andrew Strauss’ side at Abu Dhabi.
England began brilliantly by taking Pakistan’s last three wickets for the addition of one run. Replying to 257, Cook and Jonathan Trott then put on 139 for the second wicket.
Following Trott’s departure for 74, Ajmal trapped Cook in front for 20 more before having Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan caught at slip to leave England 207 for five at stumps.
Regardless of those blows, Cook believes England are well placed to square the three-game series.
“I think we’ve had a really good day, to wrap up their innings with only one more run in the morning,” he said.
“That last half an hour has just shifted it back to maybe a little bit evens. But we’re one partnership away from getting through that first half an hour and suddenly a 50 deficit becomes a 50 lead at lunch.
“If you’ve got wickets in hand you can turn that into a bit of a lead. But in these conditions if you look too far ahead it’s a problem.”
Cook and Trott were going steadily but with little difficulty against Ajmal and fellow spinners Abdur Rehman and Mohammad Hafeez, who all troubled England at Dubai.
However, left-armer Rehman bowled Trott with a beauty that clipped the top of the right-hander’s off stump and, after a brief recovery, Ajmal wreaked havoc.
“It always seems the way in the sub-continent conditions,” Cook added. “Everything can seem to be going fine, and then you lose wickets and new guys come in.
“You saw when Trotty and I had the partnership, you feel comfortable and then you lose wickets and suddenly it all changes.”
Cook felt for Pietersen and Morgan, who both immediately faced spin on a wicket offering assistance to the slow bowlers.
“It’s quite hard to score when you first go in,” he continued. “You don’t get going very easily so the pressure is on when you first go in. You feel you’re never going to score a run.
“As you get used to the ball spinning, you clip the one into the gap and get going again and everything seems a bit easier. That’s just the way it is. You can’t get to 20 very quickly in these conditions.”
As he is accustomed to, Cook began his innings against pace. However, Hafeez was introduced in the sixth over with Ajmal immediately following.
Like in Dubai, Ajmal and co regularly beat the bat. But this time England managed to get beyond 200, with 67 runs coming off Ajmal’s 29.5 overs.
“I do think I can pick him the majority of the time - 80%. But like any batter, you make mistakes,” said Cook. “We probably played [him] better today than we did in Dubai.”
Cook fell short of what would have been a 20th Test century, equalling his mentor and England batting coach Graham Gooch.
“It’s always frustrating when you’ve worked so hard for a milestone, to fall just short of it,” he added.
“It’s disappointing when you don’t get it, because you know it took five hours to get there. But it beats last week, when I got three and five.”
With Ian Bell and Matt Prior set to resume to tomorrow, Cook is confident England can take a first-innings lead.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve thrown it away,” Cook claimed. “We’re only 50 behind, and we’ve got Belly and Matt Prior - excellent players - at the crease, and our lower order did well in Dubai.
“In the absolutely ideal world, you’d be sitting here with two or three down. But credit to the way Pakistan bowled in that last half-hour, and made it extremely tough.”