If England have learned anything from the 3-0 defeat they suffered against Pakistan in the UAE Tests then it is that they simply must get their preparation right for the upcoming trip to Sri Lanka.
I know that Graham Gooch, now England’s full-time batting coach, has been holding some extra sessions here with Ian Bell, in Birmingham, and Andrew Strauss, in London, ahead of those players leaving early for Sri Lanka, where the first of two back-to-back Tests in Galle and Colombo starts on March 26. Gooch is taking an advance party of seven players to do a week’s extra acclimatisation before the rest of England’s 16-man squad arrives in Colombo in mid-March, and that is an excellent idea.
Against Pakistan it was clear that the batsmen, in particular, could have done with some added practice time before being pitched in to three Test matches played back-to-back, and as conditions will be similar in Sri Lanka it is important that England do not make the same mistake again. Indeed, looking to the future and especially the big Test series coming up in India in the autumn, I think it is vital that England’s management now make it their business to ensure that they never go abroad again without scheduling a proper amount of match practice ahead of a Test series.
But it is not just the England batsmen who need to prepare more thoroughly for future overseas assignments. The spin bowlers, too, need to look at how the Pakistan spinners bowled in those three Tests in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and recognise why they were outbowled – even as well as Monty Panesar, when selected, and Graeme Swann bowled themselves.
As someone who now takes an active part in developing the next generation of our spinners, I also hope that the England management are talking to Panesar and Swann specifically about the lengths, and speed, they are going to bowl in Sri Lanka and – even more importantly – how they plan to bowl with the DRS (Decision Review System) in mind.
I believe that Pakistan’s spinners bowled purely for the DRS, and were rewarded so handsomely because they gave themselves the very best chance of winning decisions from it. And, like it or not, and personally I would have loved it, the DRS system is now a big part of international cricket – especially in subcontinental conditions – and so this must now come into spinners’ planning and thought processes.
Only 11 per cent of my 147 Test wickets were lbws, whereas Swann currently has taken around 32 per cent of his Test victims with leg-before shouts – with most of them being left-handers who have fallen to his arm ball. If I was playing now, I reckon I would get around 38 to 40 per cent of my wickets to lbw because I would also get the right-handers out that way as I bowled in a very different style to Swann and my natural line was far more wicket-to-wicket.
How many Test wickets would I have ended up with from my 64 Tests with DRS? Well, more than 147 that’s for sure! Actually, looking back, and remembering especially the natural length and pace I bowled, I reckon I would have shouted for lbws so much I would have lost my voice!
And, by the way, one of the things that would have definitely happened is that Navjot Singh Sidhu, the Indian batsman, would not have scored as many runs off me as he did! He used to kick everything away apart from whacking the length balls over midwicket, but with DRS he wouldn’t have stayed in long enough to make any sort of score. I think I might have got him lbw a few times!
Anyway, back to Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, who both quickly realised the way they needed to bowl both to suit the pitch conditions and the presence of DRS. They bowled it a bit quicker, but still tried to spin it, and they also bowled very accurately and back-of-a-length. That was the crucial factor, whereas I felt both Swann and Panesar often bowled it too full.
Rehman, in particular, bowled a magnificent length, skidding it into the batsmen but also getting the odd one to turn quite a lot, while Ajmal is obviously more unorthodox in his ability to beat or find the edge of the bat on both sides of it.
It may be to England’s advantage in Sri Lanka that their bowlers – headed probably by Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath – are not of the same high quality as Ajmal and Rehman, but do not doubt that the Sri Lankans have not seen the way England’s batsmen played in the UAE. They will have done their homework, and there is never any shortage of decent spinners in Sri Lanka in their own conditions.
What should not be forgotten, however, as England look ahead to the next series in what is going to be a big year in their quest to remain the No 1 Test team in the world game, is that they could easily have won that Pakistan series 2-1 – even without their batting really coming to terms with the spinning threat.
In two of the Tests they had a first innings lead and being bowled out for 72 in Abu Dhabi, chasing just 145 for victory, was a very poor effort. Again, I am sure that Andy Flower and his coaching staff will have learned from that, as I hope the players themselves have done.
John Emburey played 64 Tests and 61 ODIs and is a former England captain