England brought both an expectant summer and the Illingworth era to a painful and unsatisfactory end in the Third Test at The Oval yesterday. A 2-0 defeat against Wasim Akram's talented side would not ordinarily be a humiliating result over a five-match series, but over three it represents a sound thrashing and one the home side and their coach, David Lloyd, must learn from.
One of the lessons is that England need to find a bowling attack capable of taking wickets, or at least putting opposition batsmen under pressure. Alan Mullally apart, none of England's bowlers in this series pitched a consistent length and line.
Another lesson - an increased resilience among the batsmen - was thought to have been learned. Against predictable bowling attacks that may be the case, but against a combination as inventive and confrontational as this, England looked as fragile as ever once the pressure began to grow fangs and Mushtaq's leg-spin began to bite.
The Sultan of Sahiwal is not too grand a title for this diminutive wizard of wrist-spin. His 6 for 78 came from an unbroken spell of 30 overs from the Vauxhall End, a performance that earned him the man-of-the-match award and one that raised his haul of 17 wickets in the series and 45 in his last six Tests.
Indeed, so complete was Mushtaq's mastery that until Waqar's dismissal of Chris Lewis - the batsman was unsurprisingly late getting his bat down on an inswinger - the leg-spinner appeared to be heading towards bagging all 10. As it was, Wasim's three late wickets propelled him into the 300 club in his 70th Test, the 11th Test player to achieve this benchmark of true greatness.
Poor England. This is the fifth successive series Pakistan have won against England, a record stretching back to 1982. Every time they convince themselves that things are getting better, along comes a team whose consummate skill and aggression reminds them, that at best, things have only really remained static. A contention borne out by the fact that England have only beaten these opponents once in the last 19 Tests.
Yesterday's all-fall-down - 10 wickets lost for 126 runs in three and a half hours - was a virtual re-run of their last-day batting collapse at Lord's in the first Test, when nine wickets were lost on the final afternoon for 75 runs. In a way, that was the crucial blow, devastatingly struck and immaculately timed in terms of the strategy and psychology of a three-match series. After that, England knew they had to win but seemed unsure how to take the 20 wickets needed to accomplish it.
Confused, they were forced to mix cod kidology (in the hope of getting green wickets) with a bowling attack who were never sure what to believe as much desired continuity was jettisoned in favour of the "one-off" selection.
The batting, so sure and certain at Headingley, showed its customary fragility here once Atherton had gone, second out, to a sharp pad-bat catch at silly point. With Mushtaq Ahmed bowling round the wicket, he was drawn into a defensive shot he need not have played.
His annoyance was evident and he swished his bat angrily as if swatting a pesky wasp. Once again, the England captain appears to be the only player able to defend for long periods. Although a draw was useless to England in the context of the series, they lost much of the credibility gained at Headingley with the meekness of their collapse.
His opening partner, Alec Stewart, who has resurrected his Test career with his sleek and powerful strokeplay, was deservedly made his country's man of the series, an accolade that went Mushtaq's way when Pakistan's was named by England's coach, David Lloyd.
However, even a cricketing nostalgist like John Major cannot have failed to be impressed by the verve and substance of Pakistan's cricket. Like England, they have a six-month season. Unlike us, they have no cricket academies or indoor schools: just a club system operated with cut-throat competitiveness on and off the field.
If the Prime Minister does want to learn how to improve England's cricketing lot, he should send his next fact-finding party to the depths of Pakistan, and not to some committee room at Lord's, where the meniscus's of gin and tonics have a habit of distorting the bare facts.
The Illingworth reign has ended by posing more questions than it has answered. Under the Yorkshireman, England have played 28 Tests, winning six, drawing 13 and losing nine. It is by no means a devastation, and yet when there are individual players as talented as Cork, Atherton, Stewart and Thorpe around, England's win rate should be higher. Winning is not everything but it should permeate English cricket a lot further than it does at the moment.
n Surrey, responding to a request by the Test and County Cricket Board to drop Chris Lewis as further punishment for arriving late at The Oval on Sunday, said their team to face Warwickshire would be chosen in the usual way tomorrow. Surrey's coach, David Gilbert, said if Lewis played he could be captain, as Alec Stewart and Adam Hollioake, his vice-captain, were in England's one-day squad.
Scoreboard from The Oval
England won toss
ENGLAND - First innings 326 (J P Crawley 106, G P Thorpe 54; Waqar Younis 4-95).
PAKISTAN - First Innings 521 for 8 dec (Saeed Anwar 176, Salim Malik 100no, Ijaz Ahmed 61).
ENGLAND - Second innings
(Overnight: 74 for 0)
*M A Atherton c Inzamam b Mushtaq 43
(192 min, 144 balls, 5 fours)
A J Stewart c Asif b Mushtaq 54
(139 min, 100 balls, 7 fours)
N Hussain lbw b Mushtaq 51
(114 min, 96 balls, 8 fours)
G P Thorpe c Wasim b Mushtaq 9
(38 min, 24 balls)
J P Crawley c Aamir b Wasim 19
(95 min, 58 balls, 2 fours)
N V Knight c and b Mushtaq 8
(19 min, 17 balls, 2 fours)
C C Lewis lbw b Waqar 4
(33 min, 22 balls)
D G Cork b Mushtaq 26
(39 min, 33 balls, 6 fours)
R D B Croft c Ijaz b Wasim 6
(23 min, 16 balls, 1 four)
I D K Salisbury not out 0
(4 min, 0 balls)
A D Mullally b Wasim 0
(1 min, 1 ball)
Extras (b6, lb2, w1, nb13) 22
Total (357 min, 82.4 overs) 242
Fall: 1-96 (Stewart), 2-136 (Atherton), 3-166 (Thorpe), 4-179 (Hussain), 5-187 (Knight), 6-205 (Lewis), 7-220 (Crawley), 8-238 (Cork), 9-242 (Croft).
Bowling: Wasim Akram 15.4-1-67-3 (nb14) (7-0-35-0, 5-0-21-0, 3.4-1-11- 3); Waqar Younis 18-3-55-1 (w1) (4-0-11-0, 3-1-13-0, 6-1-12-0, 5-1-19- 1), Mushtaq Ahmed 37-10-78-6; Aamir Sohail 2-1-4-0; Mohammad Akram 10-3-30-0 (nb1) (one spell each).
Progress: 100: 154 min, 36.4 overs. 150: 210 min, 49.5 overs. Lunch: 158-2 (Hussain 41, Thorpe 4) 52 overs. 200: 294 min, 69.5 overs. Tea: 227-7 (Cork 18, Croft 1) 79 overs. Innings closed: 4.18pm.
Stewart 50: 123 min, 88 balls, 7 fours.
Hussain 50: 111 min, 92 balls, 8 fours.
PAKISTAN - Second innings
Saeed Anwar c Knight b Mullally 1
(9 min, 8 balls)
Aamir Sohail not out 29
(32 min, 17 balls, 5 fours)
Ijaz Ahmed not out 13
(21 min, 21 balls, 1 four)
Extras (nb5) 5
Total (for 1, 32 min, 6.4 overs) 48
Fall: 1-7 (Saeed Anwar).
Did not bat: Inzamam-ul-Haq, Salim Malik, Asif Mujtaba, *Wasim Akram, Moin Khan, Mushtaq Ahmed, Waqar Younis, Mohammad Akram.
Bowling: Cork 3-0-15-0 (nb4); Mullally 3-0-24-1 (nb2); Croft 0.4-0-9- 0 (one spell each).
Umpires: B C Cooray and M J Kitchen.
Man of the match: Mushtaq Ahmed.
Men of the series: A J Stewart (Eng) and Mushtaq Ahmed (Pak).Reuse content