Pakistan v England: Saeed Ajmal shines but Prior leads fightback
First Test, Dubai International Stadium, day one:
England 192 v Pakistan 42-0
England endured a torrid first day of their Test series against Pakistan as they were bowled out for 192, with off-spinner Saeed Ajmal taking 7-55.
After winning the toss, England slumped to 43-5 in a pulsating opening, before Matt Prior (70) lessened the damage.
Despite the Dubai pitch offering little turn, England could not cope with Ajmal's variations as five batsmen fell lbw and none of the top six passed 24.
Pakistan underlined their supremacy by cruising to 42-0 at the close.
The ease with which Pakistan openers Taufeeq Umar (18) and Mohammad Hafeez (22) dealt with England's attack rounded off a chastening day that underlined just how difficult it will be for Andrew Strauss's men to hold on to their number one status in a year featuring three away series against sides from the subcontinent.
Their vulnerability against spinners was brutally exposed as Ajmal - whose figures were the best of his career - effortlessly took apart a batting order that had spent much of the last year battering the cream of India and Australia into submission.
SAEED AJMAL FACTFILE
- Age: 34
- Birthplace: Faisalabad
- Tests: 18
- Wickets: 90
- Test bowling av: 28.43
- One-dayers: 55
- ODI wickets: 78
- One-day av: 24.66
In truth, Ajmal was assisted by some dismal shot selection from the specialist England batsmen, with only Ian Bell truly blameless in his downfall.
England's team selection will come under scrutiny as well after they opted against picking Monty Panesar as a second spinner to back up Graeme Swann.
The strategy contrasted sharply with that of their opponents, whose captain Misbah-ul-Haq introduced the first of his three spinners as early as the sixth over and was instantly rewarded as Alastair Cook tried to cut a Hafeez ball that was too close to him and got an edge through to wicketkeeper Adnan Akmal.
Jonathan Trott looked in good touch as he peppered the boundary three times early on, but a leg glance off Aizaz Cheema grazed the edge of his bat and the catch was athletically taken by Akmal.
The arrival of Ajmal in the 19th over swiftly brought about the departure of the rest of England's top order as the off-spinner produced a devastating spell of three wickets for five runs in five overs before lunch.
Strauss carefully defended Ajmal's first five balls before aiming an extravagant pull at the sixth and seeing his leg stump pegged back.
Bell was caught behind for a golden duck to a well-disguised doosra, and when Kevin Pietersen was struck on the back pad in front of middle stump England were 43-5.
In fact, the pre-lunch damage could have been even more severe had Akmal not fumbled a stumping chance when Eoin Morgan was on three.
Morgan survived to add 39 with Prior as England clawed their way towards the 100 mark, but just when the Dubliner was starting to look comfortable against the spinners he took a wild thrash across the line to Ajmal and was out leg before.
Stuart Broad survived an lbw appeal off his first ball, with Pakistan's review unsuccessful, but when he was trapped again 13 balls later even the DRS system could not save him as England slumped to 94-7.
With Prior playing steadily at the other end, Swann took on the role of the aggressor as he and Prior added 57 for the eighth wicket.
"An off-spinner like Saaed Ajmal takes some looking at and getting used to but an off-spinner from England, while they're all pretty and nice, they're not mysterious.
"Could an action like Ajmal's come from England? I'm not sure it could because it almost gets coached out of them.
"If Ajmal continues to do what he's done today he'll win the series for Pakistan."
He hit six boundaries in his innings of 34 before playing down the wrong line to a beautifully flighted delivery from the left-armer Abdur Rehman.
Prior batted with discipline and restraint, taking 87 balls to score his first boundary, before opening up after England lost their eighth wicket.
He reached his 19th Test half-century off 115 balls in a chanceless knock but ran out of partners as Chris Tremlett and James Anderson were trapped in front to become the sixth and seventh victims of Ajmal's memorable haul.
Pakistan, who have not lost a Test series since the spot-fixing scandal during their 2010 tour of England, made a confident start with the bat as Hafeez and Taufeeq tamed England's new-ball duo of Anderson and Tremlett.
Swann's off-spin was also given short shrift, with Hafeez nonchalantly lofting his second ball over mid-off for four to round off a triumphant first day for Pakistan.