Yousuf and Kamran pile on the misery

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In the middle of the afternoon here yesterday as the series finally, inexorably slipped from England's grasp it was time to dust down the old lines. "Best team in the world? They're not even the best team in this stadium, they're not even the best team in their own dressing-room if the fitness coach's cover drive is having a good day."

Or how about: "Vaughan a good leader? He couldn't lead his dog." And a particularly old favourite: "Bowl? They couldn't bowl hoops downhill."

None of this is anywhere close to being accurate or reasonable but it is the sort of reaction that winners of the Ashes and putative world champions must expect.

Plenty of other truths have emerged. It has become clear these past few weeks, if anybody doubted it, what a stupendous effort it was for England to beat Australia last summer and how much it might have taken out of them emotionally and physically.

Paradoxically, this series has also crystallised Australia's magnificence, since they have won everywhere including the subcontinent during their era of dominance. Actually, it is seven years and about as many Pakistan captains ago since Australia won in this country. The series in 2002 was played on neutral territory because of security fears, though it may be churlish, if huge fun, to suggest that it doesn't really count.

But the overwhelming feeling, espoused by England's coach, Duncan Fletcher, as he virtually conceded the series to Pakistan last night, was just how damnably difficult it is to win on the subcontinent. Most things from tosses to umpiring decisions have to go your way and then it is important to play calm, patient cricket.

"I don't think it's a tough tour," said Fletcher, talking of the physical strain of playing three long matches in quick succession on dead pitches. "Mentally, it might be tough because you're stuck in hotels all the time but we knew that would be the case. But that's what you expect, it's what we've got to do to win on the subcontinent and progress up the world rankings."

Fletcher also conceded that England did not score enough in the first innings of this final Test. The folly of their batting was obvious yesterday when Mohammad Yousuf and Kamran Akmal were sharing the seventh highest sixth- wicket stand of all against England. Finishing the day with an unbeaten partnership of 199 they had in their sights several records immediately in front of them. Though presumably not the 346 shared by Don Bradman and Jack Fingleton after Bradman reversed the batting order on an old-fashioned sticky dog at Melbourne in 1937.

There was nothing remotely sticky about the Gaddafi Stadium pitch yesterday and Fletcher was understandably keen to praise his bowlers for keeping to their tasks on another flat deck. England did not bowl badly, but just never looked like taking a wicket, even that of Shoaib Akhtar, the nightwatchman, before he was induced by the debutant Liam Plunkett into playing a miscued drive to cover where Shaun Udal took the catch. It was the tourists' sole success.

"To be realistic I don't think we can win it," said Fletcher. But England did not lose the series yesterday nor on the first day when their batting was so hapless.

The day this team will regret forever, when they were still buzzing from the Ashes effect and perhaps thought they could assimilate anybody in their ranks - from a 36-year-old grizzled spinner, Udal, to a 20-year-old tiro fast bowler, Plunkett - was the fifth of the first Test in Multan.

They needed only 198 runs to win the match, tricky but comfortably attainable. They lost. From there on things changed and tickertape parades through the streets of London seemed a very long way away.

Vaughan's disastrous days as captain

31 JULY 2003 England v South Africa, Second Test, Day 1

On Michael Vaughan's first day as captain England are bowled out for 173 and the South Africans reach 151 for 1 with ease.

1 AUGUST 2003 England v South Africa, Second Test, Day 2

Graeme Smith makes a double hundred as England take one South African wicket for the cost of 261 runs.

19 DECEMBER 2003 England v Sri Lanka, Third Test, Day 2

England are bowled out for a first-innings total of 265, adding only six runs to the previous day's score and losing two wickets. The Sri Lankans end the day's play on 264 for 2, just one run behind England's score.

20 DECEMBER 2003 England v Sri Lanka, Third Test, Day 3

T T Samaraweera and D P M D Jayawardne both make big, slow hundreds as Sri Lanka add 299 runs for the loss of only two wickets to bring their first-innings score to 563 for 5. To compound Vaughan's misery even more, two of the three wickets are run-outs.

11 APRIL 2004 England v West Indies, Fourth Test, Day 2

Brian Lara blasts his way towards what becomes an astounding and historic 400 not out. Lara puts on the majority of the 387 runs scored in the day, for the loss of three wickets.