Dr Mark Bawden, the sports psychologist who is a veteran of five Olympic Games and the psychologist to the , is not a fellow unused to the tribulations of sport. He suffered the yips as a teenager and wrote a doctoral thesis on it.
Countless sportspeople have benefited from his expertise and there is little in the mental side of sport that would faze him. But now, over the next five days before the second Test begins in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, he, as much as the batting coach, Graham Gooch, must help the England batsmen overcome a new condition. You will not find doosranoia in the psychology text books. He will be starting from scratch. But like a new strain of bird-flu it is there sure enough and help find a solution he must if England are to regain some equilibrium in their Emirates excursion.
Saeed Ajmal so mesmerised the cream of England's batting in his first spell that, by lunch on the first day, Pakistan had England reeling on the ropes in a situation from which, despite the bowlers' heroic efforts, they were never able to recover. It was clever bowling, in which he teased the ball a little this way and a little that, varied his length and pace, and generally bore the fruit of a nice little Warnesque pre-series campaign of propaganda at which a collective media grabbed, devoured and spat out. England prodded, pushed and poked without apparently a clue as to what was coming at them.
The doosra, the off-spinner's delivery that turns away from the bat rather than in, but bowled with a similar action, is not new. The Pakistan bowler Saqlain Mushtaq used it to great effect as, later, and more celebrated, did Muttiah Muralitharan. England batsmen have seen it before, not least from Ajmal, in England two years ago. They will have seen him on video, faced him even, using the virtual reality of the ProBatter technology at the Loughborough Centre of Excellence. And yet, with the exception of Matt Prior in the first innings and Jonathan Trott in the second, they were collectively dumbfounded.
So what did Prior and Trott do that the others did not? First, they did not commit themselves, as, say, did Pietersen in the first innings, when so determined to get forward at all costs was he that, even though he was at full stretch and his bat a further 18 inches beyond that, the ball was still short of him. Next, they did not attempt any cross-bat shots. The sweep is being given a bad name of late, but it should rarely be the first option and never played when the ball is pitching on the line of the stumps, and even more so now that the decision review system is so unforgiving. Third, they restricted themselves to a few strokes appropriate to their needs and did not venture beyond those. Finally, and a consequence of the other two, they spent time at the crease, and the more they were there, the easier it became for them, with confidence growing as a result. Perhaps they even began to twig how to read him.
Obvious perhaps, and clearly easier said than done, but the more time spent facing Ajmal, the better served they will be in future, which brings into question why Stuart Broad, with pretensions of being an all-rounder, chose to have a hit at the end of the game rather than use his time gainfully. That will have been brought to his attention. One wonders, too, whether Prior and Trott chose to treat Ajmal not as an off-spinner but a leg-spinner, in the way that batsmen once treated the wrist-spinner Anil Kumble as an off-spinner on account of the googlies he bowled. In other words, play it as if the doosra is his stock ball. He certainly uses it more than Murali, from whom it was meant as a surprise.
Possessing the doosra is not everything for a finger spinner (are there any left-armers who bowl one?): Swann, for example, has managed well enough without one. Indeed, although Murali certainly became a different proposition when he had it, he was not necessarily better. Left-handers found him more difficult with it because hitherto, his massive turn away from them (and, for years, unwillingness to bowl around the wicket) had given them width to carve through the off-side. Now they could be cramped if they tried to cut. The cack-handers suffered. But because of the movement of which he was capable, and the nature of many of the pitches that gave him such, right-handers could more readily pick his doosra because it was telegraphed by the significant change in line that its deployment demanded.
In the first Test here, the match did not progress sufficiently for the surface to deteriorate to the expected degree that would offer real turn for the spinners. Consequently Ajmal was able to pitch on or around the stumps no matter which he delivery he bowled. So here is the paradox: it might just be that Ajmal is more dangerous on a pitch that does not turn, or grips only slightly than a real turner simply because of the variation in line that he would need. can be a complex game.