Back in 2005 England won the Ashes. It was the first time in ages that England seemed to possess a side that could go on to be a force in world cricket for years to come. They had a very good bowling unit, a world beating all rounder and a solid batting line up.
The first task for Duncan Fletcher and Michael Vaughn was a trip to Pakistan. A chance to shed the tradition of English failures on the subcontinent. A chance to set out on the path towards world domination.
It didn’t go too well. Defeat in Multan, a draw in Faisalabad and defeat in Lahore was a pin prick to England’s balloon. Sound familiar?
2011, England finally become world number one. There have been highs and lows since 2005, but England, once more, has a very good bowling unit and a solid batting line up.
Once more, the side has been flummoxed by Pakistan.
There are lessons that need to be learnt. To be regarded as a worthy number one, you have to be able to win everywhere. England’s flaw in subcontinent conditions (if not actually on the subcontinent) is all too obvious; a lack of understanding of spin.
Time and again in this series, in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, England have cracked under the pressure of spin. All of the batsmen have looked fidgety and confused, unsure of whether they are coming or going; pressing forward or rocking back.
This Pakistan side, under the careful leadership of Misbah-ul-Haq, is a dangerous one. It has class throughout and England have now probably faced their sternest Test away from home in 2012.
It is difficult to see Sri Lanka and India exerting the same pressure on England as Pakistan. But both sides will have taken heart in the way England disintegrated so easily in the Middle East.
Does the hammering inflicted upon England mean they are unworthy number ones? No. They got to number one by beating the best. They will stay at number one by keeping that up. They also should have won the second Test and gave themselves a fair chance of winning the third in this series.
If they suffer winless series defeats in Sri Lanka and India, however, then they will have proved themselves unworthy number ones. Just look at India; number one a year ago, a side in disarray now. They were unworthy number ones – the BCCI having arranged two years worth of Test series at home now, however, will probably help lift the old boys back up the rankings, though.
What England must work on, then, is playing spin properly in spinning conditions. They have played average spinners elsewhere in recent times with aplomb. Paul Harris, Xavier Doherty, Michael Beer, Nathan Hauritz, Amit Mishra, etc etc, have been flogged.
What is required, then, is a change in approach in the subcontinent. Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss have performed wonders thus far. It surely isn’t beyond them to extract that little bit more from the batting reserves to combat such conditions.
As a footnote, it is also worth considering that, after the 2-0 loss in Pakistan in 2005, England did go on, under Andrew Flintoff, to record a 1-1 series draw in India…
By Miles Reucroft