England found it tough enough against Yasir Shah’s conventional leg-breaks but, even so, will be losing no sleep yet about Saeed Ajmal’s top-secret new mystery delivery.
Ajmal has made much of the ‘teesra’, to be unveiled in the forthcoming three-Test series against Pakistan.
After only Alastair Cook (133) had got the better of Yasir (5-76) on the opening day of the warm-up match against a Pakistan Cricket Board XI at the GCA ground, however, batting coach Graham Gooch made it clear England are not stressing about Ajmal.
Gooch has significant respect for the off-spinner, who already has a ‘doosra’ in his armoury and gave England plenty of trouble with that on Pakistan’s infamous Test tour of 2010.
But the former captain knows from his own rich experience as one of England’s greatest batsman that words can sometimes be cheap in international cricket.
“He’s the top wicket-taker of 2011 in Test cricket, so it’s going to be a good challenge for us,” said Gooch.
“But we’ll wait and see about the teesra. Saying one thing and doing it are two different things in my book.”
Gooch recalls his own battles with Australia’s master leg-spinner Shane Warne, notably that the propaganda was not always matched by reality.
“I’m always a little bit cynical. I played against Shane Warne most of his career, the greatest spin bowler I’ve ever played against.
“He’d always come up with ‘I’ve got this ball – the zooter’. So what is this ball, the ‘zooter’? It’s the ball that just goes straight on actually, if I remember rightly.
“It’s all a little bit smoke and mirrors, isn’t it?
“Just remember, you don’t play the bowler and what he says; you play the ball that comes out of his hand.”
Opener Cook clearly managed to shut such irrelevances out of his mind in a 260-ball innings full of fine footwork, shot selection and concentration against Yasir and seam bowler Mohammad Talha (4-42) in a total of 269-9 declared.
It was just as well, too, that he did for England, who again lost wickets in clusters and house a clutch of batsmen with more failures than successes to their names at this very early stage of their tour of the United Arab Emirates.
For Gooch, though, there is no reason to worry too much yet about the collective form of his batsmen and every reason to be impressed by Cook.
“He’s come up with some runs in a part of the world where it’s a bit slow and you’ve got to get into the tempo of the play and work a bit harder.
“All our guys would like to spend as much time as he has in the middle. But credit to him – he’s shown his powers of concentration once again.
“To bat pretty much all the way through the innings is a good effort, so I’m sure he’ll be pleased with himself.
“He’s been a bit of a rock for England in the recent past, and he wants to carry on – as do all the other players.”
Gooch acknowledges England face a tough test of their world-beating credentials in these foreign climes, but expects them to show their class.
“We know the challenges ahead, and Pakistan are a very talented side. They’ve had some very good results recently, and it’s going to be tough cricket over here. We’ll need to be at our best to win this series.
“I don’t have concerns. But everyone would like to spend time in the middle, and if they miss out they might feel they’re a little bit short on confidence.
“But you’ve got to believe in yourself, think back to when you’ve done well.
“We know conditions are a little bit alien to what they are in England, but the trait of a good side is to be able to perform in all parts of the world.”
Opener Cook was last out, having included 10 fours in his first hundred of 2012 and his first as a married man, following the combined 102 he had already made against an ICC Combined XI.
PCB responded with 23-0 in eight overs by stumps.
England had faltered first to 14-2 and then 121-5. There were ducks for Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell. while Eoin Morgan registered a third successive failure.
Cook shared stands of 83 for the third wicket with Kevin Pietersen and then 90 for the sixth with Matt Prior. Talha took two wickets in four balls to put England in trouble in the seventh over after they were asked to bat.
The swing bowler had Andrew Strauss caught behind with a very good delivery and then No 3 Trott offered no shot to go lbw to one that nipped back.