Nasser Hussain: How do you play Saeed Ajmal?

Nasser Hussain: How do you solve a problem like Ajmal

How do you play Saeed Ajmal The first thing to say is that the task facing England over the next five days here in Abu Dhabi is far from easy. It is one of the biggest challenges the modern game can offer.

Ajmal is the closest thing that the modern day game has to Muttiah Muralitharan in his prime. But the only difference is that for most of my career we could kick Murali away in those all-important first 20 minutes or so when you are most vulnerable. You cannot do that with the decision-review system.

Centre of attention: Ajmal caused England a host of problems during the first Test

Centre of attention: Ajmal caused England a host of problems during the first Test

I understand what Andy Flower meant when he said that great players have always played spin with their bat but when you come in against someone like Ajmal it takes time to pick up his length and which way he is spinning the ball.

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When I batted against Murali I could hide my bat behind my pad and have two lines of defence but if you tried to do that now with the DRS you wouldn't last long.

Matt Prior was successful against Ajmal in the first innings in Dubai and he did it by playing straight. The majority of the other England batsmen, with the exception of Ian Bell, who received two beauties, played Pakistan the wrong way round, as it were. They fell to spin in the first innings and the pace of Umar Gul in the second.

It looked like England had a plan to sweep first time, which is fine when it's turning but Ajmal wasn't spinning it that much, which is why Prior's method was more effective.

When the ball turns more it is far safer to sweep, as Flower and Graham Gooch did so productively when they played, as long as there isn't massive bounce in the pitch.

Brian Lara, for instance, would sweep Murali to shreds and he was one of the two players, along with Flower, whom Murali hated bowling to most. Graham Thorpe also had a successful method against Murali which involved nudging and nurdling, hitting the ball into the gaps and rotating the strike. It was the same method he once used in a century against Pakistan in which he hit only two boundaries.

One thing that England should not be considering is going down the pitch early on against Ajmal. It was fine for Ian Bell to do that against Abdur Rehman because he can pick him but it is a shot fraught with danger if you are not sure which way the ball is turning.

Matt finish: Prior was successful against Ajmal in the first innings

Matt finish: Prior was successful against Ajmal in the first innings

If you can get through those first 20 minutes or so then things become easier. You start to pick the ball out of the hand and then, and only then, you can start using your feet like Bell and Kevin Pietersen like to do.

Jonathan Trott picked up the length of Ajmal well in the second innings in Dubai and he did that by going fully forward and back deep in his crease to play the spinner off the pitch.

It made me think back to last summer when Rahul Dravid gave a masterclass in how to play Graeme Swann using the same method.

A good start to the innings can make all the difference. If Ajmal comes on when England are 80 without loss rather than 30 for two it will be the spinner rather than the batsman who is under most pressure.

Back on track: Strauss and Pietersen will be keen to get amongst the runs on Wednesday

Back on track: Strauss and Pietersen will be keen to get amongst the runs

Misbah-ul-Haq captained Pakistan very well in the first Test but England cannot say that he did anything that would have surprised them.

He will bring on Mohammad Hafeez early again this time even if it is the flattest pitch in the world while Ajmal will be on straight away to Bell.

I'm sure, too, that there will be two out for the hook when Pietersen comes in, and if that doesn't work, then Misbah will quickly turn to the left-arm spin of Rehman.

The other thing you have to say is that perhaps the England batsmen just need a bit of luck to get them on their way early on. When I went to Kandy in desperate need of runs as captain in Sri Lanka I survived a big bat-pad appeal on the off side early on. To be honest, I probably touched it – and under DRS I would have been gone – but I got away with it and went on to one of the most important centuries of my career.

If luck goes England's way early on, they will find that suddenly something clicks and it doesn't seem so difficult after all to pick the doosra. You don't feel so intense when you have been at the crease for a while. Once you get in you have a great chance of being successful and England have the quality to do just that.