Sorry England admit Ajmal mind games affected performance
The days of naughty-boy nets may be over, but England were put through a series of rigorous training drills that left them doubled over and panting for breath as they returned to work following their humiliating drubbing by Pakistan in the first Test in Dubai.
There was no sense that this was a ‘punishment’ session, but the step-up in intensity was deliberate as England sought to regain their focus before heading to Abu Dhabi and a Test they must not lose to stay in the three-match series.
Downbeat: England captain Andrew Strauss leads his players away after their thrashing at the hands of Pakistan in Dubai
It was, of course, an unscheduled session, as England were supposed to be busy with day five of a game they lost inside three days. It meant sharing the ICC Academy facilities with club cricketers who were using the main dressing rooms and playing on both of the Ovals.
The spin-bowling machine, Merlyn, was given almost as hefty a work-out as the players, as England have just three more days to work on how to deal with Pakistan bowler Saeed Ajmal — both technically and mentally.
Coach Andy Flower came the closest so far to admitting that Ajmal had got inside his players’ heads.
When asked whether the batsmen had been worried about not being able to pick the off-spinner, he conceded: ‘Yes, that plays on people’s minds, no doubt.’
Another one bites the dust: Pakistan's Saeed Ajmal celebrates taking the wicket of Ian Bell
Jonathan Trott was the only batsman to avoid being dismissed by spin in either innings. He was less willing to admit that Ajmal might have a psychological edge.
‘I hope not, I don’t think so,’ he said. ‘I think what you have to do is like with any quick bowler or spin bowler — you can’t go in with any preconceived ideas or try to prejudge what the bowler is going to do. You focus on yourself.’
Rather more distracting for England — if they let it — are the question marks over Ajmal’s action.
Flower has said a lot by saying very little, preferring to keep what he calls his ‘private views’ to himself, yet declining to take the opportunity to say he has no problem with the spinner’s action.
Regardless of any private discontent, England know it will do them no good to let it niggle away at them. Until and unless Ajmal is reported, like he was in April 2009, he is able to play, and England need to learn to play him better.
‘Obviously there’s going to be a bit of speculation and stuff around his action,’ said Trott.
Unconventional: Flower says Saeed Ajmal's controversial bowling action may have distracted his players
‘Whenever you’re successful there will be. As a team the guys aren’t really too fussed. It would be foolish for us every time we face him to think it’s a bit suspect, but the fact of the matter is we are 1-0 down and have got to win Test matches.
'We can’t make any sort of accusations before the guy has been tested or whatever. The ICC have got their job to do and we fully trust they’ll be able to do it.’
England head to Abu Dhabi today having asked for a full report on the ground from their statistician, Nathan Leamon.
Depending on the conditions they find upon arrival, The Mail on Sunday understands that England will look seriously at the idea of playing two spinners and leaving out Chris Tremlett, who otherwise remains preferred to Steven Finn for his reliability.
Monty Panesar has been impressing in the nets, but is only likely to feature if the pitch looks like it will offer significant turn after the first two days.
Odd one out: Jonathan Trott was the only English batsman not to succumb to spin in the first test against Pakistan
Trott’s efforts with the ball in the first Test might also offer England encouragement if they go with two seamers. Ever since Paul Collingwood’s retirement, they have lacked a batsman who can be a reliable change bowler.
In Dubai, the Warwickshire man dismissed Younis Khan and got the ball to wobble either way with a medium pace that seemed to suit the nature of the pitch.
‘I thought I was quite quick, to be honest!’ he said with a laugh. ‘What can I say It’s just my job to go for as little runs as possible and keep the score down, build pressure and then when the new ball comes, hopefully it will get a few wickets.’
Trott also revealed that he shook hands with Wahab Riaz at the end of the first Test, the Pakistan bowler with whom he had an altercation in the nets at Lord’s not long after the spot-fixing scandal first hit the papers in 2010.
‘I don’t have any sort of hold up or hang ups from what happened,’ he said. ‘I’ve moved on.
‘Whichever XI you come up against, its important not to carry any sort of past experiences or anything with you. The game was played in a good spirit and hopefully it can continue.’