No demons in pitch so Cook and Co are running out of excuses to justify No 1 spot


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The Independent Online

At last, a batsman batted like batsmen jolly well should. The upshot was perfectly splendid, if not for England, who are still, as the ringside announcers like to say, champions of the world, though for how much longer given recent displays is debatable.

Younis Khan scored the first hundred of the series, compiling more than his entire team had managed in the first innings of the Third Test. He gave nary a chance and after a period of circumspection at the start, possibly brought on by his rash first innings dismissal when he jabbed at a wide one, he was perfectly serene.

It was how it ought to be done, how England were doing it before they got to the United Arab Emirates a month ago and suddenly started batting like patsies.

Last night, already facing aformidable Pakistan lead of 180 after the second day of the match, England were still pondering why it had all gone wrong and whether it might all go right again.

Alastair Cook, whose form has not quite suffered as badly as that of some of his colleagues, could come up with no definitive answer. "It has not just been England," he said. "They have batted just that bit better than us. We obviously had a lot of talk about it. I don't know why.

"Historically these wickets have been batting paradises looking at the stats before. These wickets haven't been, there has been a slight change of surfaces. But they haven't been minefields by any stretch of the imagination and I don't know why with the quality of the batting on show there haven't been better scores."

England, seeking a lead in excess of 100 yesterday morning when they were 104 for six, were bowled out for 141. It followed previous scores in the series of 192, 160 and 72. There was just one innings when they, or at least two of them, Cook and Jonathan Trott, approached the matter with anything like the required expertise, and they made 327. By any lights it is not good enough and nor would it be so if England were fifth in the world instead of at the top ofthe tree.

Cook faced the microphones and notebooks after play yesterday even though he had neither batted nor bowled as the third match in a row went away from England. But he was ableto address important general issues which will grow in significance as this year in Asia and against South Africa at home winds on.

"We're a very long way behind in this game," he said. "We have had our struggles on this tour and when we do get round to batting again, it's going to take some serious character from the top six to turn that round to give ourselves a chance of batting for a long period of time.

"It is going to take some very tough mental toughness, if that makes any sense whatsoever, to deliver that.

"I know we have got the players in there but there are only so many times we can keep saying it, we have got to go out there and do it."

A recognition then by England that they have failed to deliver and must do so soon. There is, by the way, little or no pressure from outside for places. There hasn't needed to be.

Some of Younis's resolve and Azhar Ali's sheer concentration would not come amiss. Younis played perfectly, the epitome of how a Test innings should accelerate. "My motivation was how I got out yesterday," he said. "I was really angry and in Azhar I had a wonderful partner."

Cook and England are not used to staring down the barrel. How they manage to deflect it, if they do, will be the story of the rest of this match and this year. England are not batting like the number one side.

"When you don't score runs as a batter your technique doesn't go," Cook said. "We all know form comes and goes and it's how you deal with the bad times as a batter which dictates how quickly you can get back to the good times. I imagine there is not too much difference now from what we were doing six months ago when we were scoring a lot of runs.

"When you have a little bit of a trough and you haven't scored many runs it does become a mental game, there is no doubt about that.

"We never thought for a moment in our dressing room that just because of what's happened in the last two years we would just turn up and wipe the floor with everyone. It has been frustrating and we haven't played to the standards which we know we can do."

Presumably the Indian Premier League knows something then. None of the five England squad players up for auction yesterday was sold.