England’s struggling batsmen playing for Test places

England's captain Andrew Strauss hits a shot during a cricket practice session. AP
England's captain Andrew Strauss hits a shot during a cricket practice session. AP
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England’s world-beating batsmen will be playing for their Test places, as well as pride, when Andrew Strauss’s tourists try to avert a 3-0 whitewash against Pakistan in Dubai.

Strauss himself is one of a clutch of frontline batsmen who have been badly out of form in back-to-back defeats for the No 1 Test team.

But he made it clear, on the eve of the final match at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium which starts today, that a loss of productivity cannot be tolerated indefinitely – even from batsmen who have proved themselves world class in the recent past.

“You can’t keep underperforming forever,” he said.

“So all of us have a responsibility on our shoulders to improve our games.

“I’ve been a strong believer that no one is guaranteed their place in the England side.

“The environment only works properly if there is pressure on you for your place, so we all have to work very hard for the next five days.”

The stakes are therefore high for England, who would be in danger of losing that No 1 status if they were to be defeated again – and who can ill afford to begin the forthcoming limited-overs leg of this tour on a losing streak of nine out of their last 10 international matches.

They have done much remedial work in the nets since their return to Dubai, where they lost the first match of this series, to try to identify an effective method of coping against Pakistani spinners Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman.

Strauss believes they have done everything they can to help themselves, but they have purposely not unpicked techniques drastically mid-series.

“It is not about deconstructing your technique, but clarifying what you want to do out there,” he said.

“To a certain extent cricket is a form game, and some of our guys got out of it at an inconvenient juncture with each other.

“You can’t disappear into a hole too much.

“There’s a lot of things these guys have done very well, playing spin over the past couple of years.

“These conditions are slightly different, so it’s more about adapting your game to the conditions than going right back to square one and saying ‘right, I need to change everything’.

“That’s a dangerous route to go down.”

England also recognise the need to put their disappointments behind them, something Strauss concedes did not necessarily happen between the first and second Tests.

“I still think we paid the price in the second Test for our failure to adapt to conditions on day one of series, when there was not much for the spinners but we did not play as well as we should have done.

“You reap what you sow, and we are very clear in our own minds that you have got to use losses and tough times as a basis for learning.

“The first 24 hours after the second game, there was a fairly bleak mood in the dressing room – because we felt we should have won that game.

“But then things start turning to ‘ok, well that has gone – what can we do now going forward?’

“There is a will and desire on behalf of the guys to push forward and keep on improving – which is absolutely crucial.”

The final Test will be a fresh start then, rather than a continuation, England hope.

“It’s gone, finished – and in some ways, maybe it’s a good lesson for us that if you’re 5 per cent off your game against the majority of sides you’re going to come unstuck.

“It’s been there in our face; we can’t hide away from it.

“We desperately want to avoid losing the series 3-0; we desperately want to come back and show we’re better than we have shown so far in the series.

“I think there’s a feeling among the whole squad that we can and should come back and do that.

“There have been some doom-and-gloom moments – rightly so. But there have been a lot of good moments as well, and a lot of good performances from individuals.

“We’re not going to get too caught up in the downward spiral, but obviously we need to learn the lessons from where we have gone wrong.

“Ultimately, we’ve got to do it out in the middle. You can hit as many balls as you like in practice; it’s what you do out in the middle and how clear you are under pressure out there that counts.”

Ian Bell is likely to be among those trying to do just that, having recovered from a stomach upset and taken a full part in net practice yesterday.

Ravi Bopara enters the equation as a possible like-for-like replacement for Eoin Morgan at No 6. But it will be no surprise if England stick with the same team and give all the batsmen who failed in Abu Dhabi last week another chance to prove they can click here after all.