Poor in Pakistan but not a bad team overnight

The euphoria of England's Ashes victory quickly fades as a winter on the subcontinent ends its first leg. Angus Fraser reports from Rawalpindi
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The Independent Online

Last night's six-run victory over Pakistan may make the Sauvignon Blanc taste a little smoother on the flight home, but it cannot disguise the fact that this has been a very disappointing tour for England.

When Michael Vaughan's Ashes-winning side left for Pakistan it was believed by many that the only problems they would encounter on the subcontinent would be away from the pitch. The little urn had been regained after 16 years in Australian hands and Pakistan, a team that lost 3-0 to Ricky Ponting's side earlier in the year, would be disposed of efficiently and clinically. England, after all, were destined to become the best in the world.

How wrong they were. During the last eight weeks England have been brought down to earth with an almighty bang. They have been outplayed in every department, whether it be in Test or one-day cricket, by a highly talented and well led Pakistan side.

How did it happen? Quite easily actually. England will look back at the final morning of the first Test in Multan when, with nine wickets in hand, they failed to knock off the the 177 runs they required for victory. True, on an excellent pitch, they should have reached their target, but the result of the series did not come down to one crazy, irresponsible session of batting.

Pakistan, lest we forget, played pretty well in Multan too. England claim they won the first four days. On the second day England lost seven wickets for 163 runs and Pakistan scored 125-2 before the close. If I was in the Pakistan dressing-room that evening I would have been a happy man.

England never recovered from the 22-run defeat. Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, claimed losing the toss in Faisalabad wrecked their chances of winning the second Test. Calling incorrectly did make the task harder but this was hardly the bullish talk of a team that expected to win matches in difficult conditions. And the defensive attitude spread to the pitch. On the fifth morning in Faisalabad, when England had Pakistan in trouble, Vaughan seemed more interested in saving the game than winning it. His tactics highlighted the side's lack of confidence.

England could have no complaints about the third Test. They won the toss and, with the exception of Paul Collingwood, batted atrociously. Shoaib Akhtar blew them away on the final afternoon and they lost by an innings and 100 runs.

Yet England fans should not become too disillusioned. What happened last summer was not a dream, and England remain a formidable Test team. The run of six successive Test series victories was going to come to an end eventually and the players were still recovering from the trauma and exhaustion caused by the Ashes.

Vaughan's side had less than a month's break before they began preparing for Pakistan and these factors, along with the coming and going of players, prevented continuity and increased uncertainty. The injuries to Michael Vaughan, Ashley Giles and Kevin Pietersen could not be avoided but the late arrival of Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison, along with Andrew Strauss' trip home to be present at the birth of his first child, could.

These issues, along with a reluctance to get out and indulge themselves in the local culture, are matters England will have to learn to deal with if they wish to have a more successful tour of India in February 2006.

Touring here is very difficult. The cricket is tough and you have to be mentally strong to handle matters off the field. The hotels and food are excellent, and the welcome warm and genuine, but there is very little to do here other than play cricket. But that is what they are there to do, you may say. True. Yet it still doesn't make it any easier.

The Test team will recover and learn from the defeat. Simon Jones is set to return, and Vaughan, Giles and Pietersen should all be back to full health by the time they leave for India.

The future of the one-day team, however, is far more uncertain. The World Cup is less than 15 months away and England are no closer to cracking this form of the game than they were in 2003. Injury prevented the team from playing the style of cricket they intended, yet at times one wonders whether they knew what they were trying to achieve.

In South Africa last winter Geraint Jones acted as a pinch-hitter, but this plan was abandoned in the summer and Strauss returned as opener. Yet here they asked Matt Prior to perform the same task as Jones, and once again it did not work. If England had a batsman capable of taking this role then they should play him. But they do not. Strauss or Vaughan should open with Trescothick, with Pietersen, Flintoff and Collingwood coming in at four, five and six. It sounds simple, but give it a go.

To shine in India England must...

* GET OUT MORE

Staying in the hotel, calling room service and watching TV are easy ways to waste a day but not the correct approach. The players need to get out and enjoy the places they visit. Mulling over a bad match and counting the days until you get home won't help. Keep the mind active. Get out and live.

* BAT RESPONSIBLY

The majority of England's problems in Pakistan were created by batsmen failing to adapt. Shot selection was poor and there was an arrogance about the way they played. A positive approach was successful against Australia. But it failed here and is likely to fail in India. Ugly hundreds do win matches.

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