The champions' crownhas slipped so far that it is almost out of sight. Number one in the world England may remain, but when they were dismissed for 72 by Pakistan yesterday the title seemed spurious and the headgear utterly superfluous wherever it is in dangerof disappearing.
England lost the match by 72 runs and the series in the Sheikh Zayed Stadium with a batting exhibition as timid and inept as the Pakistan spin bowling was confident and masterful. It was the third failure in four innings by England's vaunted batsmen and it was the most abject, their lowest Test total against Pakistan by 58 runs.
When England brought their opponents' second innings to a close early in the afternoon, it seemed pretty much a formality they would acquire the 145 runs they needed to win on a benign surface with the ball turning slowly. Only four times in history had they failed to chase a fourth-innings target of below 150, and only one of those catastrophes had taken place since 1902 – when they were bowled out for 64 by New Zealand in 1978.
This shortfall, as it happens by the same margin, was hardly less embarrassing. Batsmen were frozen into inaction, afraid or incapable of moving their feet to spin bowling of high quality, as if tethered to the crease by an invisible rope. They were strokeless, which made them hapless, and with each agonising prod, squirt or steer the Pakistan bowlers knew they had their men. England's chief tormentor of the past fortnight, Saeed Ajmal, took a mere three wickets, Mohammad Hafeez, the third man in the spinning triumvirate, started the rout as usual and Abdur Rehman, with some delightful left-arm spin, took 6 for for 25. It rather overshadowed the exhibition of Monty Panesar, who had six wickets of his own on his return to Test cricket as Pakistan were all out for 214.
It started tamely and it became worse. After an opening partnership of 21, albeit one which took the art of circumspection to new levels,England lost all 10 wickets for 51 runs in 22.1 overs, their last five wretchedlyfor four runs in 11 balls.
From the start the mood did not seem appropriate. England's opening batsmen, Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, together at the start for the 101st time, played like men who were clinging on for dear life.
If it was reasonable to have a look to see what was happening on a gradually wearing pitch, it was a risky strategy to approach the scoring of runs as if it had been made illegal. In the 15th over Cook survived a huge appeal for leg before which the reviewsupported, but immediately afterwards offered Rehman a low return catch off a leading edge.
Two overs later, Strauss appeared to be caught off bat and pad at short leg. The umpire, Bruce Oxenford, prevaricated and asked for the help of the third umpire. For reasons known only to himself, the television umpire,Billy Bowden, decided Strauss should be spared.
Ian Bell played with gentle hands at Ajmal in the next over and saw the ball roll back on to his stumps. Bell, batting at three because Jonathan Trott was poorly, came into this series with a credible claim to be the best batsman in the world. On the evidence of the past few days he may not be the best batsman in his own house.
Kevin Pietersen was beaten by one from Rehman that went straight. Then came poor Eoin Morgan, scorer of two Test hundreds, among the best limited-overs batsmen around. He has been out of his depth in this seriesand was bowled by Rehman second ball going nowhere, except back to the pavilion in a hurry. Strauss was next, perhaps unfortunate to be lbw on the back foot to Rehman.
There was to be no resistance thereafter. England must have felt it was futile. They had invited their opponents in and were now letting them ransack the house. Trott, looking peaky, was soon made to feel worse when he was lbw stuck on the crease, plumb in front. Stuart Broad, hero of the first innings, essayed a drive and was beaten by the turning ball.
Graeme Swann became the 26th lbw victim in the series, Matt Prior poked a doosra from Ajmal to cover and Jimmy Anderson swept his second ball in the air. Pakistan's elation was understandably boundless. They had kept their nerve while England did not so much lose theirs as never locate it.
In the morning, which seemed so, so far away, England's bowlers had done what seemed a sterling job. Pakistan, 125 for 4 overnight, rattled along in the context of the match but kept losing wickets to a rejuvenated Panesar in the process. They had many more than they needed.
Four who fell short of the mark
England have made only 751 runs in four innings, and much of the blame falls on four batsmen, writes Tom Collomosse in Abu Dhabi. Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Eoin Morgan have compiled just 162 runs between them.
Runs: 68. Average: 17
Guiding England to the top of the Test world rankings will buy the skipper time, but his batting is becoming a worry. Strauss has scored only one Test century since the 2009 Ashes. He played one rash shot in Dubai and had bad luck against DRS in the second innings. In Abu Dhabi, Strauss might have had ill fortune again with his second-innings lbw decision, but he also got away with one on 16 when he seemed to have been caught at short leg and looked confused against spin.
Runs: 17. Average: 4.25
It has been a disastrous series so far for KP (above). His heave off Umar Gul to deep backward square leg in the second innings in Dubai, when England were trying to save the match, was irresponsible. Early in his career Pietersen was so assertive against the best spinners, such as Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan, but his subsequent problems against left-arm spin appear to have eroded his confidence. Abdur Rehman got him only once in these Tests – leg before yesterday – but the off-spin of Saeed Ajmal accounted for him on two other occasions.
Runs: 36. Average: 9
Bell (below) has failed the test that should have brought the best from him.He has often appeared an accomplished player of spin bowling, but not so here. Twice in Dubai he failed to pick Ajmal's doosra and made only four runs in the match. Here, Ajmal undid him again in the second innings. Bell might feel unlucky at the manner of the dismissal, but a player who had as good a year as he did in 2011 should be more careful early on.
Runs: 41. Average: 10.25
Unlike the other three, Morgan has no record of achievement in Test cricket to protect him. He averages only 31 from his 15 matches and will surely be dropped for the Third Test. Can he be successful as a Test player? It seems unlikely.
Abu Dhabi scoreboard
Pakistan won the toss
Pakistan - First innings 257 (Misbah-ul-Haq 84, Asad Shafiq 58)
England - First innings 327 (A N Cook 94, I J L Trott 74, S C J Broad 58)
Pakistan - Second innings (overnight 125-4)
Azhar Ali c †Prior b Anderson 68
Asad Shafiq c Anderson b Panesar 43
†Adnan Akmal c Strauss b Broad 13
Abdur Rehman lbw b Swann 10
Saeed Ajmal c Anderson b Panesar 17
Umar Gul not out 10
Junaid Khan b Panesar 0
Extras (b5 lb6) 11
Total (all out, 99.2 overs) 214
Fall (cont): 5-142 6-170 7-172 8-198 9-208.
Bowling: Anderson 14-3-39-1; Broad 20-9-36-1; Panesar 38.2-18-62-6; Swann 27-5-66-2.
England - Second innings
*A J Strauss lbw b Abdur Rehman 32
A N Cook c and b Mohammad Hafeez 7
I R Bell b Saeed Ajmal 3
K P Pietersen lbw b Abdur Rehman 1
E J G Morgan b Abdur Rehman 0
†M J Prior c Asad Shafiq b Saeed Ajmal 18
I J L Trott lbw Abdur Rehman 1
S C J Broad b Abdur Rehman 0
G P Swann lbw b Saeed Ajmal 0
J M Anderson c Umar Gul b Abdur Rehman 1
M S Panesar not out 0
Extras (w5) 9
Total (all out, 36.1 overs) 72
Fall: 1-21 2-26 3-33 4-37 5-56 6-68 7-68 8-71 9-72.
Bowling: Mohammad Hafeez 8-3-11-1, Umar Gul 3-0-5-0, Saeed Ajmal 15-7-22-3, Abdur Rehman 10.1-4-25-6.
Umpires: S J Davis (Aus) and B N J Oxenford (Aus).
Pakistan win by 72 runs and lead the 3-match series 2-0.
Man of the match: Abdur Rehman (Pak).