England's desire to be the best side the country has produced is beginning to look slightly ambitious. Lose in the third Test, which starts tomorrow, and the idea of leaving a legacy will pale beside the need to cling on for dear life.
The No 1 ranking they spent two hard years to secure is already on the line. Having lost the first two matches and the series against Pakistan, they must avoid defeat to ensure they retain top spot on 1 April.
This was not how it was meant to be when the team who had taken all before them for almost two years embarked on this three-match series against Pakistan barely a fortnight ago. Their present state belies the understandable confidence and belief they displayed then.
The two recent reversals, the first time that England have lost two successive matches since South Africa defeated them at home in 2008, have been designed to inflict self-doubt. At the least, England know they have to improve against top-class bowling in unfamiliar conditions, at the worst they may be incapable of doing so.
Dreams have already been deflated if not punctured. This team want not only to be remembered as the best team from England but also to be recalled in the same breath as the West Indies of the 1980s and the Australia of the 1990s and 2000s.
Jimmy Anderson, the leader of the team's bowling attack, said yesterday: "Yeah, it has been talked about because our goal was to become No 1 and when we became No 1 we wanted to set new goals and as a team we've chatted often about wanting to become the best England team there ever has been.
"We've not got off to a great start doing that but the beauty of this team is we have got strong characters in the dressing room, guys that can face up to the pressure we're under at the minute in this series."
England estimated that their biggest obstacle in winning in the UAE would be taking 20 opposition wickets in the same match. They were denied the chance to do this in the first Test when the batsmen mucked things up twice but did precisely that in Abu Dhabi in the second only for the batsmen to freeze in the desert, an eerily compelling trick, as England were bowled out for 72 in chasing 145.
Pakistan may be deflected by having already made their point but under Misbah-ul-Haq they are a side transformed. They do not look like a side who have taken their foot off the gas and victory would give them their first clean sweep against England.
The series losers are likely to make one change among their batsmen with Ravi Bopara ready for another recall.Reuse content