Stephen Brenkley: Sooner or later, these selectors must bite the bullet and drop flops
The worry now is that it is too late to regroup for the third Test, starting in Dubai on Friday
To watch the cream of England batsmanship so brutally cut down was a gruesome experience. They went to meet their makers with a curious resignation. There has been nothing like it since 1964 when Johnny North simply stood aimlessly in a classroom and allowed Lee Marvin's hired assassin Charlie to gun him down in The Killers.
It was not that England lacked fight, but that they showed no gumption. Pakistan's spinners were coming to get them and that was that. It is not that they lost – although in pursuit of 145 that is still difficult to comprehend – but they have been defeated twice on the trot. England have been here plenty of times before in Asian conditions but this has been shocking because this lot are, or were, the world's best side.
Almost all their top-order batsmen have jostled for places in the world's top 10 rankings in the past year or so and yet when confronted with spin, albeit of a high-octane variety in favourable conditions, they floundered. The experience of the first Test in Dubai must have told them that they had to move their feet, and that to play from the crease against this wicket-to-wicket bowling on a low pitch was perilous. The upshot was duly calamitous.
It will have been a chastening experience for a team which came into this series having scored more than 450 on 10 occasions in the preceding year. England undoubtedly harboured hopes of regularly eking out 400 in the UAE and making their opponents sweat, but most of the perspiration so far has dripped from one direction. England ought to have won the second Test, having been ahead, just, at the end of each of the first three days. On only four previous occasions, the last in New Zealand in 1978, had they failed to chase a fourth-innings target of less than 150.
The worry now is that it is too late to regroup for the third Test, starting in Dubai on Friday – when England will presumably reintroduce Ravi Bopara, perhaps for Eoin Morgan, a hapless champion among hapless people. There must also be concerns for the series in Sri Lanka in the spring and in India in the autumn. Styles, approaches and mindsets will have to be rebuilt.
It is the convention in these times to clamour for change. Much of this England batting order has been in place for six years. When Alastair Cook flew from an England A tour in the West Indies to Nagpur in India in March 2006 and made a hundred in his maiden Test, three of his batting colleagues were Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell. Change, quite properly, has been incremental, caused by retirement (Paul Collingwood) rather than loss of form.
The question of who would be picked in any case is not easily answered. None of the young batsmen playing in Sri Lanka for England Lions at present is ready for Test cricket. Not here. Not now. Sooner or later, however, selectors not keen to fire any bullets will have to bite one.
Of the 70 wickets to have fallen in this series, 26 have been lbw, all of them to slow bowlers. This has been mainly caused by the Decision Review System. There has been no better period to be a spinner and no worse time to be an England batsman.
But as Andy Flower, England's coach, said yesterday (and he had a Test batting average of almost 54 in Asia), the best way to play spin was always with the bat, not the pad. England have to discover a happy medium but they cannot continue to drift so gormlessly.
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The diminutive batsman (he is 5ft 5in) is probably next in line if the selectors decide Eoin Morgan can't cut it at the top level and that Ravi Bopara has had enough chances. Still just 22, he struggled for runs in the county championship in a poor Leicestershire side and has moved to Nottinghamshire in the First Division in a search for runs to nudge the selectors.
The son of former Yorkshire wicketkeeper David has already made a mark for England in one-day cricket and seems to possess the ticker for the five-day game. Whether he has the class is a moot point. Another to struggle on Asian pitches in England's one-day thrashing in India.
Smashed a stunning century for England Lions against Sri Lanka the other day, but might not even be the best wicketkeeper/batsman in Somerset – Craig Kieswetter, who also cracked a ton for the Lions yesterday, would run him close. Buttler is an incredibly inventive Twenty20 player but major questions must be asked of whether he has the ability to play Tests.
The tall Notts opener has the happy knack of catching the selectors' eyes with good one-day knocks on TV. He also knuckled down in the Championship last season. Potential replacement when Andrew Strauss has had enough. Mentions also go to James Vince at Hampshire, long touted as the next Michael Vaughan, and Tom Maynard at Surrey, the son of former England batsman Matthew.
As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”
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