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Nasser Hussain: Pakistan should have picked Abrar Ahmed for first Test with England

The only mystery about the mystery spinner was why it took Pakistan so long to pick Abrar Ahmed. 

As it is, it feels like they’ve wasted a Test by not doing what they should have done from the start, and hit England with their best spinner.

What was most impressive about the way he bowled was his control. He’s not a conventional leg-spinner really, because he flicks the balls with his fingers and out of the side of his hand. 

Abrar Ahmed left England in a spin as he took seven wickets on the first day of the second Test

England captain Ben Stokes was one of Ahmed's victims - bowled for 30 on the opening day

England captain Ben Stokes was one of Ahmed’s victims – bowled for 30 on the opening day

Even the one that bowled Zak Crawley in his first over wasn’t a conventional googly, which usually comes out of the back of the hand.

If you’re unconventional, and there isn’t a lot of footage of you kicking around, then it can take batters a while to work you out. 

Think back to the impact the Australian leggie John Gleeson made when he first came on to the scene in the last 1960s, or more recently Sri Lanka’s Ajantha Mendis, West Indian Sunil Narine and in white-ball cricket Afghanistan’s Mujeeb Ur Rahman.

The telltale signs aren’t there, because you’ve got nothing to work with, and any footage from first-class matches will lack the close-ups and super slo-mos that make Test bowlers easier to analyse. 

You can be sure that between now and the second innings, not to mention the third Test at Karachi, England will be asking the local channels for every angle they can get.

There is much for England to work out about a leg-spinner they wouldn't know too much about

There is much for England to work out about a leg-spinner they wouldn’t know too much about

Ahmed kisses the turf after taking his fifth wicket of the day - that of England's Harry Brook

Ahmed kisses the turf after taking his fifth wicket of the day – that of England’s Harry Brook

There are different ways of dealing with a spinner you’ve not seen before. 

With India’s Anil Kumble, we couldn’t pick his googly until we realised he had a gap between his thumb and forefinger in his run-up, at which point it got easier. So if you can find some kind of tell in the bowler’s approach, that’s a good start.

But if you can’t read him out of the hand, you have to try to read him through the air, which is never easy. You could tell that Crawley hadn’t picked him – just as you could tell from Ben Stokes’s reaction that he hadn’t read his googly either.

Finally, if the pitch is slow enough, you can try to read him off the surface. 

In a way, England were lucky that the two batsmen at the crease after the early wicket of Crawley were Ben Duckett and Ollie Pope, who are both brilliant sweepers. 

Joe Root was one of the men dismissed by Pakistan's debutant leg-spinner in Multan

Joe Root was one of the men dismissed by Pakistan’s debutant leg-spinner in Multan

Abrar kept Pakistan on top in the game by dismissing five before lunch and two afterwards

Abrar kept Pakistan on top in the game by dismissing five before lunch and two afterwards

If anything summed up the team’s new approach, it was Pope reverse-sweeping his first ball for four, the delivery after Crawley fell. That would never have happened in the past.

Those two played Abrar brilliantly, with the right balance between attack and defence, putting pressure back on the bowler and Pakistan. 

In previous eras, England might have reached lunch at 80 for five rather than 180 for five, then been dismissed for 150. The fact that they kept going for the shots kept them in the game – right down to Mark Wood’s useful cameo.

I don’t think you can praise England for taking risks in Rawalpindi, then criticise them for batting in the same manner in Multan, even if the pitch is turning more here – without being a minefield.

England opener Ben Duckett marks his half-century after Stokes won the toss and batted first

England opener Ben Duckett marks his half-century after Stokes won the toss and batted first

Ollie Pope, who made 60, impressed and enabled England to score at their usual high rate

Ollie Pope, who made 60, impressed and enabled England to score at their usual high rate

And if Harry Brook believes that going over mid-off worked for him in the first Test, which it obviously did, then we can’t have a go when he gets out trying it here. 

Stokes and Brendon McCullum will know, as Eoin Morgan did before them with the white-ball teams, that the messaging has to be absolutely clear.

England’s challenge now is to come up quickly with a gameplan against Abrar. And Abrar’s challenge is to stay one step ahead, so that he can still be effective after the analysts have pored over the material. It could be a fascinating battle for the rest of the series.

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Read more at DailyMail.co.uk



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