The end was swift. Pakistan secured a first-innings lead of 146 by lunch before dismissing England for the second time in 57.5 overs, needing only 15 for victory.Umar Gul’s new-ball incursions eventually brought him four wickets and Saeed Ajmal finished with 10 for 97 in the match.
Everywhere you looked there was English angst: the continuation of Andrew Strauss’ desperate batting form, the abject folly of Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell’s appointment as Ajmal’s bunny as he succumbed to his doosra in no time for the second successive innings.
Only in the closing overs of their bowling triumph did Pakistan’s players show the excitable tendencies more associated with their cricket and when they did, the seasoned captain who has restored discipline,Misbah-ul-Haq, restored order with the stony expression of a Russian president surveying the march past of the troops from a wintry Moscow balcony.
England’s mediocre record in Asia is well documented and they face a formidable task to regroup for the final two Tests of the series. There was much talk of how conditions in Dubai were tipped too heavily in favour of the batsmen. England have certainly disproved that one. This proved itself to be an excellent Test surface and Pakistan outplayed England from the outset.
Andrew Strauss came as close as he has to dissent during his imperturbable reign as England captain at his dismissal shortly before lunch. He was given out caught down the legside against Gul, a decision by umpire Billy Bowden that was upheld by the DRS. He walked from the outfield with a regal shake of the head. Actually, he allowed himself several regal shakes of the head. For a conservative sort like Strauss that was akin to rebellion.
There was definitely a woody sound as the ball curled past Strauss’ bat and there was a brief delay before he called for the third umpire, although that was probably not as much a clue to guilt as proof of Strauss’ determination that England should gather their thoughts before using the review system. Hotspot revealed nothing – but then Hotspot is not infallible. The third umpire, Steve Davis, as the guidelines state, saw “no conclusive evidence” to allow him to overturn Bowden’s decision and he had no option but to follow such a course.
Pietersen was suckered. He has always been a liability on nought, a batsman on heat, desperate for his first run. Here it is, invited Gul, banging in a short ball. Here you are, responded Pietersen, hooking it to Abdur Rehman at deep backward square. The eerie calm of an empty stadium might undermine Pietersen more than most because he has an ego that feeds off big crowds. Somebody suggested on Twitter that they should tell him that all the spectators have come painted as empty seats.
Ajmal could not be kept out of the picture for long. He bowled Bell first ball in the first innings and he was soon bamboozled a second time, so disorientated by his failure that he wasted a review in confirming the inevitable.
Trott stood firm for nearly two hours for 49 but even his dismissal was disappointing as his carved at a wide one to gave Gul his fourth wicket. All that remained was for Pakistan’s spinners to terrorise the lower order. Abdur Rehman was on a hat-trick after Stuart Broad holed out in the deep and Chris Tremlett’s golden duck, caught at slip to complete a poor game. Rehman almost got it too, as James Anderson allowed a ball to slip by, perilously close to off-stump
Fittingly, though, the final moment, in the field at least, rested with Ajmal, smiling broadly as he lured Swann into error. He left brandishing the match ball towards the smattering of spectators in what has felt like a made-for-TV Test. Dubai’s newspapers had promised a bigger crowd on Saturday. There won’t be now.
England had conceded another 50 runs on the third morning in removing Pakistan’s last three batsmen. Adnan Akmal, one of seven brothers, three of whom have played Test cricket, chanced his arm to carry the game out of reach, advancing his overnight 24 not out to 61 before he was last out, stumped by three yards against Graeme Swann as he sought a single to farm the strike. If Mrs Akmal had managed to provide a full team, the Akmals would have constituted the most unpredictable side in the world, half cricket team, half circus troupe.
Saeed Ajmal, even more than Strauss, had reason to rue his misfortune as Hotspot, as it tends to do, seemed to be taking a day off. “Nobody claims the DRS is perfect,” Haroon Lorgat, the ICC’s chief executive, had reminded everybody in Dubai the previous day. DRS, according to Lorgat, had improved decision making to 99% accuracy. Ajmal got the 1% as the third umpire Steve Davis this time put small print ahead of commonsense.
Billy Bowden, on the field, adjudged Swann had dismissed Ajmal at short leg, the batsman called for a review, and TV replays showed no flick of the glove as the ball deflected off the pad to Alastair Cook at short leg. According to Sky TV, Davis then told Bowden that because Hotspot was obscured he had “no conclusive evidence” to overrule his decision.
Long before the end, Pakistan had forgotten that. They had destroyed an England side which has had few peers over the past couple of years. The series is alight.