If, on the 22nd August 2011, amidst the euphoria of England’s utter destruction of India at the Oval Test, we were told that England would lose their next series, few would have believed it. Fewer still would have believed they would go on to lose that series 3-0, make a score of 300 only once in six innings, and totally fail to score a century at all.
But happen it did: on Tuesday afternoon England concluded their three match tour of Pakistan in their debut series for 2012, a series in which the England of 2011 just never turned up.
However, we shouldn’t take anything away from Pakistan, for they exhibited truly first-class performances and the last match in Dubai was a testament to this. Azhar Ali’s marathon 157, played over a staggering 533 minutes, and Saeed Ajmal’s masterful 6-47 are reflections of the two qualities Pakistan displayed all tour: patience and flair.
But, let’s face it, the biggest reason for Pakistan winning was that England played poorly and the causes of this are not too difficult to ascertain. On the dry, turning wickets of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, England were found wanting. Ian Bell, who scored an impressive 950 Test runs last year, had an average over this series of just 8.55. In fact, none of the England batsmen save perhaps Alastair Cook, with his courageous 94 in the second match, looked at all comfortable in the conditions, struggling against spin and in particular, Ajmal’s penetrating doosra.
This is particularly disappointing because the warning signals were clearly there. For all England’s success in 2011 and their march towards becoming the number one Test team, this was largely achieved on surfaces England naturally ensconce in: fast, green pitches with plenty of bounce and swing for pacemen, in sharp contrast to the slow, low pitches of the UAE. It was perhaps premature to laud England before they faced a genuine contest in conditions abroad.
And whenever they did play on slow pitches last year, they were embarrassed. An indifferent showing in the sub-continental World Cup, followed by last October’s whitewash at the hands of a resurgent India, emphasised English woes on flat, turning wickets. Lessons simply weren’t learnt and rather than acclimatise to such conditions comprehensively, England didn’t play a single Test match for 5 months, let alone in Asia. During this period Pakistan were diligently refining their craft against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
It is not all doom and gloom of course. England has another opportunity to improve over the upcoming Tests in Sri Lanka and can find solace in the aggressive, confident performances of Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson. But there is a lot more work to do in accommodating to Asian pitches, and only when this is done can England truly claim to be the number one Test team in the world.