Ashes to dust: a dramatic fall from the heights of summer

More than defeat itself, the comprehensive way England were outplayed in so many areas raises a worrying question - do they really have all the tools they need to be the best side in the world?
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How long ago that rousing party in Trafalgar Square seemed yesterday. It might have been another age instead of 81 days, it might have been another cricket team.

England, the winners of the Ashes, conquerors of mighty Australia, champions in waiting, had been defeated in their first outing since then. Not simply defeated, but by losing the Third Test midway through the afternoon session, they had become the first England side to lose two Tests in a series in Pakistan. Worse England sides have fared better; better Pakistan sides have fared worse.

The first tour of the winter never was about to be as straightforward as some observers had indicated. It takes skill and cunning to win on the subcontinent, and England ultimately lacked enough of either commodity. But to be beaten 2-0 and to have been hanging on to the opposition's shalwar kameez tails since the final day of the opening Test were unexpected occurrences, and perhaps inexplicable.

Apart from the fact that we can be sure that they have not yet stopped laughing in Australia, and might very well not stop until the next Ashes series begins, the result has not turned England into a bad, or indifferent, side in 81 days. It makes them a side insufficiently versed in the nature of the subcontinent and its cricket to convert unpromising positions into winning ones (although they managed to convert a winning one into a hopeless one).

It will be recalled - and the players will remember it always - that at Multan in the First Test they had a wonderful chance to take a lead and, who knows, perhaps kill off the series. For four days it had been like the hazy days of summer all over again, with England sometimes dominating, sometimes fading but then hauling themselves up again.

On the last morning, needing a tricky but definitely attainable 198, six wickets tumbled for 53 runs and defeat was inevitable. Five years ago, Nasser Hussain's team won a thrilling victory in Pakistan on the last day of the series largely by having played boring cricket throughout. They never took risks; they waited for the home side to make mistakes, to blink first.

In Hussain's well-worn but apposite description, they sat in. Michael Vaughan's team (and Marcus Trescothick's, since he led them in the First Test when Vaughan was injured) did not sit in - they could hardly wait to be up and at 'em. England had not won six successive Test series under Vaughan, including the Holy Grail, by being conservative. They have been free-thinking radicals.

Doubtless they were aware that such a liberal approach would not work here. The pitches are slow, they turn, they demand hard, relentless graft from the seamers for little immediate return. But, knowing all this, England forgot to be patient, as if they could not help themselves.

In the whole series, England put together only four partnerships of more than 100. Of the 36 partnerships from first wicket to sixth covering the three Tests, no fewer than 23 yielded totals less than 20. Wickets frequently fell in clusters, having been virtually gifted to the opposition as though batsmen were handing over a 50 rupee note to some poor unfortunate beggar at a city-centre junction.

Vaughan was as candid as could be expected in defeat yesterday. It is not a task he has often had to fulfil, the last time being when Sri Lanka outsmarted England two years ago.

"In certain periods of play we showed patience and played very well, but in others we have not been able to apply ourselves," he said. "Consistency wins Test series in places like this and we weren't consistent in all areas."

It is worth comparing the new middle-order batsmen, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell. Pietersen is a dashing, thrilling player whose 100 at Faisalabad took the attack to Pakistan. It helped him to finish with 201 runs in the series but there was not much else, and his style did not allow him to look totally at home.

Bell played a daft shot or two as well, but he also recognised the wisdom of Hussain's dictum of sitting in. Neither in his 71 from 169 balls in the First Test, nor his 115 from 272 in the Second, nor his 92 from 189 in the Third, when admittedly he was trying to salvage a draw, was he needlessly rushed.

Vaughan denied point-blank that he was worried about his form, and it is true that he is frequently getting out to taxing balls, but very good batsmen keep out the very good 'uns.

Andrew Strauss was due a bad patch and had his mind on home and a new baby. Innocently, maybe, he has drawn attention to the whole issue of paternity leave for cricketers. It does not take much to deduce that more cricketers' babies could be on the way during the Ashes and the World Cup next winter.

And then there was Shoaib Akhtar. He was a different creature from the man who went through the motions at Worcestershire last summer (and that was on the good days). Here was a bowler of outstanding pace and intelligence. His lethal slower ball was matched by an array of yorkers and bouncers usually propelled at 93mph.

In truth, he might have had more than his 17 wickets, a haul that included 10 in the top six of the order.

"He was a big difference between the sides," said Vaughan. "He was a constant threat to us and put us under pressure throughout the series. I think he has been a surprise in that he has sustained his disciplines in everything he did, his lines, his pace, his variations. Every spell he has bowled, he has put batsmen under pressure." Credit to Bob Woolmer, Pakistan's coach, for some of that at least, and for honing a side with discipline and alertness.

England's attack was not as potent. Ashley Giles, who took 17 wickets for Hussain's team, was carrying a hip injury and was never a threat. The two leading practitioners, Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison, were bowled into the ground. They took wickets - as did Matthew Hoggard - but not quite enough of them.

Flintoff, the champion, struggled for runs. Small wonder when he is bowling so many overs. England cannot expect him to bat at No 6 if they are intent on beating the life out of him. Vaughan recognised this.

It is India in the spring, and if England play as they did here, they will lose there. Everybody involved is denying that there was any Ashes hangover, one created by the titanic effort involved rather than the celebrations. But only one side looked in need of a hair of the dog in this series and it was England.

Tour Report: Some went well, but others...


IAN BELL: Did not quite hit jackpot but began to cement his place. Originally dropped from First Test, he was summoned for injured Michael Vaughan. Despite flaws of judgement he showed tenacity as well as talent.

STEPHEN HARMISON: Twelve wickets at 33 is not a glorious return. Yet invariably, as in his relatively unsung summer, he was a handful. Still misses home but never looked out of place. A great fast bowler in the making.


MICHAEL VAUGHAN: His place in the pantheon is already assured. But he has a dodgy knee and dodgier form. Neither is new and although this remains his team, he is wise enough to know privately that both require dissection.

SHAUN UDAL: For a 36-year-old to achieve his dream of a Test debut hardly makes him bereft. But off-breaks - only 75 overs - were ineffective on flat pitches against fine batsmen. Maybe it explained why he had not played before.

MISJUDGEMENT DAYS: Five mistakes which cost England dear

1 PREPARATION: Modern cricket's mantra now: "Never be prepared". So few preliminary matches invite disaster. England got away with it, just, last winter. It may partially explain their wretched second innings in Multan. Adjustment takes time.

2 FIRST TEST, FIRST INNINGS: A lead of 144 sounds handsome, but from 251 for 2 England were 418 all out and missed their chance to bat Pakistan out of the match. Trescothick's 193 was masterful, but on a blameless pitch only one other batsman made 50.

3 FIRST TEST, SECOND INNINGS: Complacency or sluggishness? Probably both, but this was when England lost match and series. They could have built immediately on their great Ashes triumph and will eternally regret their failure to make 198. For once, nobody took responsibility.

4 LINE MANAGEMENT: The seamers, especially Andrew Flintoff (above) and Stephen Harmison, had to do the stock bowling and the shock bowling. The spinners could not be trusted. Ashley Giles' hip and Shaun Udal's inexperience took a heavy toll and combined they bowled only nine overs more than Flintoff.

5 SWEEPING SICKNESS: Batting performed as a unit. On five occasions the first wicket fell for under 34. Multan apart, the biggest fault was at Lahore after winning the toss. So anxious were they to cash in that they lost their deposits sweeping naïvely.


England won toss

England - First Innings 288

(P D Collingwood 96; * M P Vaughan 58, M E Trescothick 50)

Pakistan - First Innings 636-8 dec

(Mohammad Yousuf 223, Kamran Akmal 154, * Inzamam-ul-Haq 97)

England - Second Innings (121-2)

I R Bell lbw b Akhtar 92

(Hit low on back pad by full-length slower ball; 304 min, 189 balls, 13 fours)

P D Collingwood c Hasan Raza b Kaneria 80 (Edge to slip off defensive shot to leg-spinner; 254 min, 196 balls, 12 fours)

K P Pietersen c Hasan Raza b Kaneria 1 (Edged back-foot forcing shot to slip; 10 min, 3 balls)

A Flintoff b Kaneria 0 (Bowled through gate by googly; 1 min, 1 ball)

ÝG O Jones lbw b Akhtar 5 (Hit on back leg by seaming ball; 22 min, 17 balls, 1 four)

S D Udal c Butt b Sami 25 (Edged back-foot defensive shot to slip; 47 min, 34 balls, 4 fours)

L E Plunkett lbw b Akhtar 0 (Hit on back leg by high full-toss slower ball; 6 min, 3 balls)

M J Hoggard b Kaneria 0 (Bowled through gate by googly; 23 min, 6 balls)

S J Harmison not out 0 (1 min, 0 balls)

Extras (b13, lb9, w1, nb9) 32

Total (357 min, 77.1 overs) 248

Fall (contd): 3-205 (Jones), 4-212 (Pietersen), 5-212 (Flintoff), 6-212 (Bell), 7-227 (Jones), 8-227 (Plunkett), 9-248 (Udal), 10-248 (Hoggard).

Bowling: Shoaib Akhtar 19-3-71-5 (nb5) (5-0-21-2 3-0-11-0 4-1-11-0 7-2-28-3), Naved-ul-Hasan 16-3-55-0 (nb1) (9-1-39-0 3-0-7-0 4-2-9-0), Mohammad Sami 16-4-39-1 (w1) (6-4-7-0 3-0-13-0 6-0-13-0 1-0-6-1), Shoaib Malik 4-2-9-0 (2-1-1-0 2-1-8-0), Danish Kaneria 22.1-8-52-4 (nb3) (4-1-13-0 12-5-24-0 6.1-2-15-4).

Umpires: D B Hair (Aus), R E Koertzen (SA).

TV replay umpire: Zameer Haidar. Match referee: R S Mahanama (SL)

Pakistan win by innings and 100 runs and win series 2-0