England – abysmal, Pakistan – brilliant.
This time around, it was the left-armer who took the wickets. Abdur Rehman bowled sharply and accurately for 10.1 scintillating overs, during which he made England look as competent as Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard. His figures of 6-25 (9-92 in the match) lead to him receiving the man of the match award, however his colleague Saeed Ajmal also contributed to the away team’s downfall with 3-22. These two, ably supported by Mohammad Hafeez (1-11 from eight overs at the start of the innings), are not yet in the Muttiah Muralitharan class, but nor are they the sort of pie-chucker such have previously troubled England. They are very fine players who bowled as the conditions required. Credit must also go to Misbah-ul-Haq for his generally level-headed captaincy and who was constantly trying to keep the bowlers and close fielders calm and focussed despite the frantic atmosphere. However we doubt any leader could keep Adnan Akmal in check, his regular appealing whenever ball struck pad or reached a fielder verging on the ridiculous.
It was supposed to be so easy. England took the six remaining Pakistani wickets in 36 overs, Monty Panesar leading the way with another three to take his innings haul to 6-62. The target of 145 was within the 250 that Stuart Broad laughably said was attainable; England’s top order surely couldn’t fail again, could they? And if they did, well there would still be that impressive bottom order who average so many more than their rival sides.
Misbah correctly opened the bowling with Hafeez who promptly started to unsettle Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook. The latter attempted a knock into the on-side but hit a leading edge back to the bowler: 21/1 from 14 overs. With Jonathan Trott confined to the bathroom, Ian Bell entered at number three and soon looked all at sea. He defended an Ajmal delivery that then trickled back between his legs to nestle against the base of the stumps. 26/2. Kevin Pietersen threatened to run himself within minutes of arriving in the middle, but before he was able to, he had made a mess defending a Rehman delivery (head falling over, bat coming down askew) and was LBW. 33/3. We could go on.
Actually, balls to that, we will go on. Eoin Morgan showed his doubters to be correct, attempting to play what can only be described as a kind of cut-cum-drive-cum-block. Unfortunately the bat was nowhere near the ball and he lost his off stump. 37/4. Andrew Strauss had thus far played what would only be described as a captain’s innings due to the fact he was a) not yet back in the dressing room and b) had reached double figures. He never looked comfortable, invariably opting to play from the backfoot. He should have been dismissed when Azhar Ali took a neat catch at short leg, but bizarrely third umpire Billy Bowden found no reason to confirm the ball had not bounced. Perhaps Billy’s crooked fingers can’t operate hi-tech equipment, but surely his eyes are meant to work properly? However the situation was rectified when Strauss was again caught on the pads in front of his wicket. 56/5, and with a (hopefully bunged up) Trott batting with Matt Prior, there was still hope for England.
But then Trott was trapped LBW, again by Rehman: few wickets have ever been plumber. 68/6. Lest we forget that Stuart Broad is not primarily a batsman, he was bowled through the gate by a huge-turner facing only his second ball. 68/7 and England knew they were doomed. Whereas Prior had shown what can be achieved by playing of the front foot, albeit the crisp cover drive for four was his solitary boundary, Graeme Swann opted to play entirely from the crease. After a four-ball duck, the score had progressed painfully to 71/8. Notwithstanding that the saviours of Cardiff ’09 were to follow, Prior knew the game was up and was caught in the covers for 18. This was Saeed Ajmal’s 100th Test wicket and he reached the milestone in fewer matches than any other Pakistani- no small feat given his illustrious predecessors. 72/9. If we’re honest, we can’t quite remember how Jimmy Anderson was dismissed, not through drink – although that possibly had an influence- but because we were punching walls and throwing laptops in anger. 72 all out. It might not be the worst score ever made – it wasn’t even the worst score of the day, thanks to Zimbabwe’s capitulation for 51 to New Zealand- but it is a shockingly dire total. Once upon a time, we’d have laughed and said this kind of collapse was reassuring and comforting, like a pair of slippers or a shepherd’s pie. But for this England side, with this backroom support, with these batting averages, this was utterly atrocious.
For Pakistan: scorching. With Junaid Khan contributing zero runs, one dropped catch and eight wicketless overs, they won with effectively ten men. The series is in the bag and they deserve to celebrate.
Turning to England, it is too soon to give this innings the full analysis it probably deserves. But they were slow to score and quick to lose their minds; it takes nothing away from the superb Pakistan performance to say that this collapse should have been avoidable. There can be few members of the Morgan fanclub left advocating his existence in the Test team and his place must surely be in jeopardy for the next match. Whether this is for Ravi Bopara, Steven Davies or a fifth bowler remains to be seen. On the subject of team selection, Strauss does deserve credit for surprisingly picking Panesar at the last minute, when all onlookers, ourselves included, were preferring Steven Finn. The depth in bowling is reassuring, even when the batting looks the opposite.
This was England’s first back-to-back loss since the summer of 2008. The series is unwinnable, but it is imperative that England do not give up. That’s what India did last summer and look what they now resemble (clue: rhymes with Isle of Wight). After England’s victory in Sydney last year, the players sat in the middle of the empty stadium, smoking cigars and drinking beer, relaxing as a team in the aftermatch of a thrilling series win. We hope they do similar now (but with the luxuries replaced by whips and sticks), focusssing on the problems and errors and discussing ways to move forward for the third Test. A whitewash would be a complete failure, but if they can find a way to rectify their various issues and bounce back with victory, it might speak volumes about how good this side really are.