Thursday, 5 November 2015

Disappointments and what ifs

Thursday, 5 November 2015
I have mixed feelings about this series, and the 2-0 scoreline. There is, of course, disappointment: the missed opportunities, the what ifs, and the general frustration that the same old problems seem always to be repeating themselves. And yet there's also a part of me who has kept up the optimism, the ‘look for the positives' spiel so often churned out to the media even when, on the face of it, things look pretty bad. This has been a series which I expected England to lose, and which they duly did, yet it wasn't a loss that felt quite as bad as those that have come before.

Of course, the overriding sense is one of disappointment. England were outplayed in all departments; Pakistan with a batting lineup where you felt someone would always get the runs, and a bowling attack always capable of causing England great difficulty. Mohammad Hafeez, Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq, and Younis Khan all hit centuries and scored over 300 runs; whilst Shoaib Malik scored 245 in the first game. Malik also took eleven wickets and topped the bowling averages; Yasir Shah was the leading wicket taker in the series with 15, despite missing the first match; Wahab Riaz could be destructive; Imran Khan somewhat unsung, but effective; and Zulfiqar Babar helping build the pressure by bowling maiden, after maiden, after maiden. In contrast, for England it was tough to see where the runs were coming from beyond Cook and Root, and when they bowled the spinners rarely threatened on the same level as the pacemen - far from ideal in conditions like these. Spin proved a lethal weapon so often for Pakistan, but England's spinners could never let the pressure build. Admittedly the Pakistan batsmen are much superior players of both spin bowling and the conditions, and targeted the spinners, but England struggled for consistency and accuracy. The fast bowlers were excellent, but were left with too much work to do.

It's frustrating, because a lot of the time it seems to be the same old problems coming up again. Whilst I am a fan of both Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, it's clear that they are still a work in progress. England should stick with them, but this series showed that they really will have to learn fast. It's clear that both can be very dangerous on their day: just think of Rashid on the last day of the first test, or Moeen Ali against India last year. But those days have come too far apart, and in between them they haven't been able to at least contain. There's also the batting line up, and that middle order that hasn't really fired all year. Ian Bell has shown some fight this series, but he can't have many more chances left. His duck in the second innings was his ninth score of 0 or 1 this year. Together in that innings numbers 3 to 7 scored just eight runs, three making ducks, and all falling to spin. Several times the batsmen have made a start, got to about forty runs, and then got out. Even Root made three fifties and no centuries. They're just not capitalising. And still England are no closer to deciding who should open the batting.

But still somewhere in there, are the good things. Like how they came so close to winning in Abu Dhabi, denied by the fading light. How England batted long in that game to ground Pakistan down, and to even put themselves in with a chance of winning through a brilliant spell of bowling from Adil Rashid. And how they nearly pulled off the impossible to save the second test, Rashid again showing great character with the bat, him and Mark Wood laying down the anchor. It proved merely to delay the inevitable, but it was still an effort to be proud of. There were the performances of the pace bowlers throughout: Anderson having a sensational record of 13 wickets at 15.61; Mark Wood having his best match yet in Dubai; Stokes taking wickets in Abu Dhabi; and Broad finally coming to the party in Sharjah. There was nothing easy about the conditions they bowled in, but they did the task admirably.

More than anything, it's a series that leaves England with a lot of what ifs. What if Cook had managed to win a toss, and England had the chance to bat first? What if the sun had set just a few overs later in Abu Dhabi, and they weren't left just 25 runs short? What if Finn didn't have to go home injured, and there was an opportunity to rotate with Wood? Instead Wood, too, now finds himself on a plane home, missing the limited overs matches with injury. What if Stokes hadn't been injured during the final test? England would have been able to better manage the workloads of Anderson and Broad, and perhaps he might have helped the lead extend beyond 72. What if the fielders had clung on to their catches, like Ian Bell dropping both Mohammad Hafeez and Asad Shafiq in Abu Dhabi? What if Broad hadn't overstepped when he got Shoaib Malik in the same innings? What if Bairstow had taken that stumping of Hafeez in Sharjah?

But that was the difference. Pakistan took their chances when they came; England were left with a bunch of missed opportunities and what ifs. Pakistan stepped up when it mattered, like when Wahab Riaz brought England's downfall on the third morning in Dubai, or how the spinners struck them down on the third morning in Sharjah. There would always be a batsmen to stand up and do the job for Pakistan, barring that dramatic final day of the first match. At times it felt like one of that middle order of Younis Khan, Misbah, and Asad Shafiq would always be batting, not giving anything to the English bowlers. In the final test it was Mohammad Hafeez, scoring 151 to take Pakistan clear of the danger, and with Azhar Ali sharing their only century stand for the first wicket. The runs were on the board, and then the spinners could have their fun.

England are left with a lot to do to improve. Next they head to South Africa, only the team ranked number one in the world. It's a place that should suit them better - and especially the pace bowlers - but where the batsmen will face a stern test from the opposition quicks, particularly Dale Steyn. It will be a tough ask for a batting lineup that is still not firing, and who have been shown to struggle against genuine pace before; and it will be a tough place to try and bed in the next opening partner for Alastair Cook (likely to be Alex Hales). The winter rolls on.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Two Short Legs © 2014