England have had four months off without any serious Test cricket. And that more than anything was responsible for their poor showing against Pakistan in Dubai.
You need that competitive edge at the highest level and, while you can gain it to some extent from warm-up games, unless you are switched on 100 per cent at the start of a Test series problems are likely to emerge.
England were not battle-ready in my opinion. There is no excuse in an era when players study each other so much on film for underestimating the threat posed by a bowler of Saeed Ajmal’s mystery and skill.
It surprised me that none of our batsman, with the exception of Matt Prior, seemed to have a game plan against him and that is something each individual will need to put in place over the next few days.
If I were in charge of the side I would order two days of complete rest to clear the minds of what happened in Dubai and then two days of intensive practice in which the batsmen spend as much time as possible facing Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar.
You cannot exactly replicate Ajmal’s deliveries and I believe he bowls a good deal quicker than most spinners. But if I were practicing against Swann and Panesar I would try to picture in my mind that it is Ajmal bowling and plan my approach accordingly.
We didn’t read which way he was turning the ball in the First Test and my first advice to the batsmen would be to try to take one mode of dismissal, the lbw, out of the equation. If that means they start nicking to the slips it’s a risk worth taking.
The longer you spend out there against a bowler like Ajmal, the easier it becomes to pick him and you get your feet moving better. I’m sure the other batsmen will be talking to Prior about that and how he coped.
There is no set technique for every player because each individual is different and must form his own game plan. The important thing is to have faith in it and the concentration to apply it.
I believe England will learn the lessons of Dubai and bounce back strongly in the Second Test. The sub-continent is always a tough place to conquer, but we need to keep believing in ourselves as the best team in the world.
A true test of that lies ahead and I can’t wait to see how our players respond.