England's cricketers spent yesterday playing in a golf day to raise funds for the survivors of October's devastating earthquake in Northern Pakistan. News of Pakistan's 2-0 victory in the Test series is unlikely to have reached most of those who continue to suffer but it should have helped Michael Vaughan's side put Saturday's capitulation in the third Test into some sort of perspective.
The results of cricket matches are inconsequential when compared to disasters of this scale but, even so, it was still hard to believe, as England lost eight wickets for 43 runs in just over an hour of play, that you were watching the same team which regained the Ashes 82 days ago.
It would be easy to lambast England for the series defeat, and state that they had become complacent and star-struck after their success during the summer. There were indeed a number of areas where they let themselves down, but by taking this stance you would not be giving Pakistan the credit they deserve.
Any team in the world would have struggled to cope with Shoaib Akhtar and Inzamam-ul-Haq during the three-Test series. The pair were inspirational. Shoaib, in particular, took 17 wickets through a bewildering combination of sheer pace and sleight of hand.
There were also big contributions from Mohammad Yousuf, Salman Butt, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal and Danish Kaneria. Pakistan have many talented young players who, under the guidance of Inzamam and Bob Woolmer, the coach, are developing into a combative team.
England were not at their best, that cannot be denied, but it was not due to one particular reason. It was a combination of several little things which, when added together, turned into something more major.
The first thing that everyone must realise is that winning in Pakistan is very difficult. England and Australia have played 44 Test matches in Pakistan since October 1952 and the combined number of victories comes to five.
Touring here is unique and it takes some getting used to. The hotels the players stay at and the facilities at the cricket grounds are as good as anywhere, yet it is still difficult for players to feel truly comfortable while they are here. It may have something to do with the country being dry, and the lack of a bar - a focal point to meet and socialise in the evening or on days off - at each destination. This, along with the culture, smog and general chaos taking place outside the entrance to the hotel makes it hard to lead a similar sort of existence to home.
This, however, should not be used as an excuse. International sportsmen should be able to deal with these issues. It is their job. But whatever people say, and some are more vocal in their criticism than others, players do struggle to cope with a visit to the subcontinent. These are issues the England management cannot control but they have not been too successful with dealing with those they can. Injuries, late arrivals and the imminent departure of players to attend the birth of children have prevented the team becoming as close-knit as on previous tours, and this togetherness will be tested even further during the five one-day internationals that follow.
Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison played in the Australia versus Rest of the World Test in Sydney while the remainder of the squad relaxed at home, but I do not like to see a team make its way to a destination in dribs and drabs. One of the reasons for England's excellent spirit is the fact that no player is given special treatment. Here, unfortunately, two were.
On their previous two winter tours, England have managed to get away with playing only two warm-up games before the first Test but here, on pitches which take a lot more getting used to, the policy has come unstuck. Marcus Trescothick was the only batsman in any sort of form going into the Multan Test and without his 193 the match would have been as one-sided as that in Lahore.
England's schedule may be busy but when there is so much time and money invested in a series, it is essential that teams prepare properly. Cricket owes this to those who pay to watch, whether it be at grounds or on television. Australia's itinerary in England did not help their cause at all and by failing to prepare adequately, teams are reducing the quality of the product.
England gave it all they had in the field but Pakistan's relentless cricket eventually sucked the life out of Vaughan's side, as was highlighted in Saturday's collapse. Flintoff looked absolutely shattered in the final Test. In Multan and Faisalabad his huge heart and bloody-mindedness gave England a sniff of success, but the support his heroic efforts needed failed to materialise.
If there was an area where England displayed arrogance and complacency, it was with the bat. During the Ashes, England's batsmen benefited from being positive but here they lacked patience.
England's batsmen did not try to adapt to the conditions and too many of them were guilty of getting out playing strokes that brought them runs against Australia. The three who did modify their game - Trescothick, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood - all had good tours.
It is hoped that Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Flintoff learn from the experience here because they will play in similar conditions in India in March. It is hard to see England's selectors making many changes to the squad for India. Simon Jones will return at the expense of either Liam Plunkett or James Anderson and a different spin combination may be considered.
England will hope Ashley Giles recovers from his hip operation in time, but who goes with him? Shaun Udal was regarded as England's best off-spinner in September so he is likely to tour. Northamptonshire's Monty Panesar has an outside chance, as does Alex Loudon, but, if England win, the wickets will probably be taken by the fast bowlers.
Three winners from England's Test series...
Bell's tour looked over when he was left out of England's final warm-up game before the first Test. He scored just three runs in the opening match and had been bowled out by England's travelling doctor at practice. But Bell made the most of Michael Vaughan's knee injury, scoring a composed 71 in the first Test. Bell posted his second Test hundred in Faisalabad and fell eight runs short of a third in Lahore. He and Paul Collingwood appear to be the only members of England's middle order who are prepared to knuckle down and score ugly runs.
His Test career was on the line when he walked out to bat in Lahore. In four Test matches he had scored 119 runs at an average of 14.9. But he showed what a fighter he is by scoring 96 and 80 during England's hefty defeat in the third Test. These scores are unlikely to guarantee him a place in England's team for the first Test against India in March, but he has shown people that he has what it takes to score at this level.
Keeping wicket in Pakistan is far from easy. The slow, low nature of the pitches means that the ball often bounces twice before it reaches the gloves and chances need to be taken. England's spinners rarely beat the bat but Jones kept well. There were no glaring mistakes and he was tidy around the stumps. He also scored useful runs with the tail and his 33 in Multan almost took England to victory. Not helped by a dreadful lbw decision during England's capitulation on Saturday.
and three who failed to perform
The England captain had a miserable tour which ended with him returning home after the third Test with a knee injury. At home he will attend the birth of his second child and see a knee specialist. In Pakistan Vaughan scored only 108 runs in eight innings and as a captain he did not provide the same inspiration as during the Ashes. On the final morning in Faisalabad he went defensive when the game was there to be won. Flatter pitches and ineffective spinners did not help his cause. He and Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, will need to come up with something different in India if a similar result is to be avoided.
This was Strauss's first poor series for England. Was he distracted by the fact that he was always going to miss the third Test to be present at the birth of his first child, or was it just down to form? It was probably a bit of both. Strauss struggled with the low, skiddy bounce of the pitches here. Strauss scores the bulk of his runs square of the wicket via the cut, the pull or a clip through the leg side. To do so on the subcontinent he will have to look to play straighter and collect runs down the ground.
Giles was expected to have a major influence on the series but he had little. Yes, his bowling was hampered by a hip injury, which forced him to miss the third Test and return to England for surgery, but he failed to give his captain either the control or the cutting edge he was looking for. Giles took three wickets in 75 overs of toil and two of those were tail-enders. Yet England need him to be fit for the upcoming tour of India.Reuse content