James Lawton: Even a Tweet like KP may agree that it's tricky to stay top of the tree

England gained their position through the decline of Australia and India's ineptness

On his way to six major titles, Sir Nick Faldo reflected that the really tricky business was not getting to the top of the world but staying there.

This now has to be written across the hearts of England's Test team, along with swift agreement that any team luxuriating in the title of the world's best can hardly treat a total failure to deal with seriously good spin bowling as some passing inconvenience. It is a huge flaw, especially now that the superb development of DRS has become such a powerful and morally sound aid to the ancient art of slow bowling. Getting to that top ranking was a brilliant achievement, a magnificent endorsement of the thinking and style of coach Andy Flower and captain Andrew Strauss. But in the end good intentions, as Faldo was so quick to say, can get you only so far.

If you are going to spend a little time at the top – as opposed to the dynastic years of the truly great teams like the West Indies and Australia – you have to do more than reject the easy complacency that so overtook England in the wake of their Ashes triumph of 2005.

You have to grow stronger in every area and the plain truth is that England have become progressively weaker in a way that seems almost guaranteed to undermine their status with visits to Sri Lanka and India pending and the formidable South Africa arriving in the summer.

Players of the extraordinary talent of Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell have retreated before the wiles of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, so badly that when Jonathan Trott reported ill, the most resolute department of England's batting was pared down to the scratchings of Strauss and the trademark resistance of Matt Prior.

After Pietersen's third abject failure of four in four innings, he tweeted "Oops..." You can't imagine a message like that from Viv Richards or Steve Waugh, not just because they were hardly inclined to banalities but also that the chances of either being involved in the kind of competitive breakdown which overcame England on Saturday were so utterly remote.

Flower, who ironically enough taught himself to play spin as well as anyone in the world, will probably be less dismayed by a killing lack of technique as the collective failure of will which consumed England when Pakistan displayed a willingness to fight through unpromising circumstances.

When Azhar Ali and the young Asad Shafiq inched their team into a lead, they were lambasted in some quarters – and not least by former England captain Nasser Hussain – for "going nowhere".

As it turned out, they were showing a gutsy determination to slug it out which would, in the perfect 20-20 vision of hindsight, put their opponents quite profoundly to shame.

England may be right to protest that what happened to them was less some crushing statement about the poor nerve with which they are handling their top ranking as a basic lack of preparation for alien conditions. They can also point to their traditional vulnerability the moment they hit Asian soil. But this washes only so far as it goes, which for England is not much further than the nearest water-hole.

The truth is that England gained their position not only because of some splendid performances, individually and collectively, but perhaps also through the decline of Australia to the point where they had to reinvent themselves, and the shockingly inept approach of India last summer.

Now another reality has come with the heart-warming redemption of Pakistan. England have discovered something Nick knew all along, which was that true greatness required him to hit at least a million balls. In England's case, most of them better be spinning.

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice