During the Dubai Test last week, Sky threw up one of its ridiculous stats, which illustrated how contrary to popular opinion the averages of England’s top seven batsmen against spin are all actually higher than their career averages.
However, Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t be fooled by this and nor were we. Taking the candy on offer from the likes of Xavier Doherty in Australia, Amit Mishra last summer and Paul Harris on frankly any pitch is one thing, but doing it against Anil Kumble, Muttiah Muralitharan and now Saeed Ajmal in their own backyards is quite another.
A quick scan of the averages of England’s current top seven away to Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka is far more revealing – no we are not including Tests in Bangladesh as facing what is effectively a County 2nd XI attack tends to inflate the averages of even the worse batsmen. Yes, even Chris Martin.
Surprisingly, it is Matt Prior that leads the way with an average of 46.71 from 6 Tests, followed by Alastair Cook (39.33, 8 Tests, 2 hundreds), Andrew Strauss (37.20, 8 Tests, 3 hundreds), Ian Bell (32.95, 12 Tests, 1 hundred) and bottom of the pile Kevin Pietersen with an average of just 31.54 from 12 Tests with two hundreds. (NB: the Test in Dubai was Trott’s and Morgan’s first away to Pakistan, India or Sri Lanka)
The causes of this serial failure are many with some or all of the following applying to each of England’s batsmen: hard hands, a general lack of foot movement, an inability to take singles and rotate the strike, too much deference and not enough decisiveness, tentativeness and a failure to pick Ajmal.
England’s recent record away to Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka is woeful with the defeat in Dubai making it just one win in 18 Tests stretching back to the twin triumphs in Pakistan and Sri Lanka of 2000/01. It was perhaps hardly surprising therefore that Pakistan’s bowlers took 14 wickets for 184 runs in Dubai on a pretty flat wicket with inconsequential turn and little bounce. This doesn’t bode well for the remainder of this series, nor the ones to Sri Lanka and India later this year.
If any inspiration is required, England should look to four of the leading English batsmen in the subcontinent over the last 30 years. Geoff Boycott leads the way with an average of 58.83 from 8 Tests in India and Pakistan (he never faced Sri Lanka) and is closely followed by David Gower (56.90, 16 Tests), Graeme Thorpe (48.29, 10 Tests) and Paul Collingwood (42.15, 12 Tests).
Three of the four were defined by their grit, bravery and obdurateness, which should be attributes most of England’s batsmen can relate to and hopefully display when they get to the crease later today. Pietersen will hopefully realise that genius as exhibited by Gower can thrive in Asia too. England’s number one ranking depends upon it.
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