Ajmal leads Pakistan’s late rally

Pakistan were so worn down by their impassive resistance that for a while they came close to madness. The moment they banished them from their presence, joy abounded once more.

Pakistan made life hard for themselves. They frittered away both their umpiring reviews in a matter of minutes as Trott’s resistance drove them to desperation in the desert air of Abu Dhabi. They fondly imagined they had dismissed him twice because they were desperate to get rid of him. Then when he really did depart, Abdur Rehman finding unexpectedly big turn to bowl him for 74, their feelgood factor immediately returned.

England lost 3 for 9 in the last 10 overs of the day, all of them to Saeed Ajmal, Pakistan’s 10-wicket destroyer in the first Test in Dubai. Few who saw Ajmal begin to run amok again, and the old ball suddenly turning sharply, would state with confidence that England will level this series. The Sheikh Zayed stadium had played host to an attritional but absorbing day and it possessed a devilish twist.

Cook fell six runs short of what would have been the most watchful of Test hundreds, lbw to Ajmal’s doosra; Kevin Pietersen was caught at first slip by Mohammad Hafeez off pad and inside edge; Eoin Morgan followed via the same dismissal in the final over. For England it was all a blur. Cook and Trott might conclude that they can handle Ajmal from now on but nobody else can. On the England balcony Graeme Swann tried to read a David Downing novel but it was unlikely the words were going in.

Cook had initially been as stilted against Pakistan’s spinners as a Jane Austen suitor asking for a first dance but he relaxed as his innings progressed. Trott also needed the fortune of several thick edges – so much so that when his bat rubber disintegrated he changed the rubber rather than change the bat.

But while Trott and Cook put up methodical resistance, in a stand of 139 in 50.4 overs, England prospered. At 166 for 1 they had edged to within 91 runs of Pakistan’s first-innings total and just as importantly had eased the challenge for those still to come – theoretically at least – as Pakistan allowed their frustration to get the better of them and frittered away their DRS reviews with abandon.

Pakistan should have opted for DRS when Trott, on 22, was trapped on the back foot by Ajmal. But the bowler was ambivalent and the decision of Australian umpire Bruce Oxenford went unchallenged. Replays on the big screen showed the ball hitting leg stump, causing the captain Misbah-ul-Haq to engage Ajmal in a lengthy debriefing.

Oxenford has had an impressive series – eight decisions upheld and only one overturned at that stage – so experience had suggested he should not be readily challenged. But as Trott and Cook bedded in, Pakistan’s logic departed.

Trott was on 49 when Ajmal struck him on the front pad; Pakistan opted for a review only for replays to show that the ball had hit his pad outside the line. Three overs later, Mohammad Hafeez turned one to strike his pad. Again, Misbah agreed to resort to DRS with a somewhat weary air and again replays showed the ball hitting him outside the line. Pakistan had exhausted their options.

Pakistan have rightly been praised for their orderly approach under Misbah’s leadership but they falter when it comes to DRS. Adnan Akmal knows how to screech an appeal in the best family tradition – and he is the best wicketkeeper of the Akmal trio, too – but he is too inexperienced to be trusted with shrewd analysis of a bowler’s line. Trott had escaped in the first Test in Dubai when Ajmal waved aside the chance to refer what would have been a stone-dead lbw decision. And, in the same Test, Umar Gul risibly demanded a review for a delivery that pitched miles outside leg stump.

It was the 100th occasion that Cook and Andrew Strauss had opened together for England. They were only the fourth Test pair to reach the landmark, and the first from England. But they had rarely experienced anything like this – a trial by spin in the desert. Here was a different challenge, an arid land of half-finished building projects and idle cranes where England must recover from 1-0 down in the series.

It was all too much for Strauss. He made 11 and was then stuck on the crease, propping half forward suspiciously, when Mohammad Hafeez had him caught off bat and pad at short leg. Strauss, whose poor run of form goes on, was intent on playing Pakistan’s spinners off the back foot as much as possible but he departed shaking his head at an indeterminate shot.

England began the day with vigour, needing 16 balls to wrap up Pakistan’s last three wickets. Pakistan added a single from Misbah to their overnight 256 for 7 before Stuart Broad had him lbw to end his obdurate innings on 84. Broad finished with 4 for 47 after one of his most consistent and mature bowling displays for England.

England were delighted by their rapid dismantling of the Pakistan tail, the only disappointment resting with the statisticians. Not since 1948 had an innings completed its course without intervention from the fielders but the last man, Junaid Khan, put paid to that as he edged his third ball, from James Anderson, to Swann at second slip.

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