Pakistan v England: Lessons from a Test series whitewash
Jon Waring looks at the lessons England will have learnt from an intriguing but ultimately disappointing series against Pakistan
England were ranked the No1 Test side in the world and were overwhelming favourites coming into the series, but the tourists were undone by a unified and disciplined Pakistan side led by the unflappable Misbah-ul-Haq.
The English batsmen endured a torrid series, posting a total over 200 in just two of their six innings, with none of them registering a century. Matt Prior was the only batsman to average above 30 and emerge from the UAE with his credibility intact; the others bamboozled by Pakistan’s spin twins Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, who shared 43 series wickets. Kevin Pietersen lauded Prior as England’s best player of spin at the start of the series, and how he longed for a share of his team-mate’s ability. England’s number four fell victim to the spin duo’s charms five times in the series, twice to Rehman, taking his career dismissals by left-arm spinners to 22.
Pietersen’s fellow middle-order companions fared little better. Ian Bell came into the series with a reputation as a fine player of spin, but left it looking like a rookie. His 51 runs at an average of 8.5 were in stark contrast to last year’s Test average of 118.75 and his performances harked back to the Bell of old; fidgety, unfocused and outwitted. He looked as clueless against Ajmal as he did against Warne in 2005, and he must address his failings if he is to bounce back once more.
Given the nature of the defeat and the manner in which England’s vulnerability to spin was exposed, there will inevitably be calls for players to be dropped. Heading this list will be Eoin Morgan, who averaged just 13.66 and appeared out of his depth against the Pakistani spinners. Renowned for possessing swift feet, Morgan often found himself trapped on the crease, as his dismissal to Rehman in the first Test showed. As entertaining as his tactic of trying to attack the spinners in the third Test was, it smacked of desperation, and Ravi Bopara may find himself batting at number six in Sri Lanka.
Although there was little encouragement to come out of the series for the batsmen, England’s bowlers can hold their heads high. Dismissing a Pakistan side containing the experienced Younis Khan and Misbah for 99 in the final Test was a remarkable achievement and were it not for poor batting, the series may have panned out differently.
The talented bowling unit which elevated England to number one in the Test rankings may have been reshuffled here, but the outcome was effectively the same. Stuart Broad and James Anderson bowled accurately and adapted well to the conditions, while Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann performed well in tandem and picked up 27 wickets between them.
Panesar’s performances will be most pleasing for Flower and spin-bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed. Returning to the Test side for the first time since 2009, the Sussex spinner took 14 wickets in the two Tests he played in and bowled with control to upstage his spin twin Swann and claim England’s man of the series award.
Misbah-ul-Haq means business
It is impossible to review this series correctly without praising Pakistan’s overall performance. Beaten by England in 2010 and discredited by subsequent spot-fixing debacle, Pakistan cricket could have fallen off the radar. Enter Misbah, Pakistan’s saviour.
The experienced batsman has developed a collective, winning culture within his side and his calm aura appears to have spread. He has developed a team that pulls together, rather than a group of individuals, one that is slowly bringing pride back to Pakistani cricket. Azhar Ali, often accused of losing concentration in pressure situations and throwing his wicket away, bore resemblance to his skipper when he batted for nine hours, registering a disciplined 157 and guiding his side to victory in the final match of the series. Pakistan remain unbeaten under their new leader and now have the achievement of whitewashing the number one Test side to brag about. But this is not Misbah’s way; he will just carry on unfazed in his quest for success. Watch out world.