x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Pakistan's Test triumphs over England come with the territory

In what is starting off as a season of upsets, Osman Samiuddin examines the things we learned from the two victories over the world No 1 side in the UAE.

England's captain Andrew Strauss, left, is under pressure as he averages under 31 since the 2009 Ashes.
England's captain Andrew Strauss, left, is under pressure as he averages under 31 since the 2009 Ashes.

Pakistan's madcap 72-run win over England in Abu Dhabi on Saturday sealed a series triumph few people would have thought likely and, eventually, by a margin so comfortable fewer still would have predicted. Some observations of the implications for both sides and cricket in general are in order.


Test cricket is in flux and we love it

England swamped India, Sri Lanka beat South Africa in South Africa, New Zealand beat Australia in Australia, Australia swamped India, Pakistan swamped England: the rankings tell a longer, deeper story but just in this last year they have not meant anything.

Given what has happened to the last two, on current form, you would not want to be the No 1 side in the world just now.

We also appear to be entering an age of greater territorialism, where few teams are adept at playing in foreign conditions but expert at utilising those at home.

That has been the undercurrent through India's tour to Australia, but also in the contrast between England's results against Pakistan in 2010 at home and their results here.

Even Pakistan's most ardent supporters will acknowledge that it has helped over the last year for them to be playing in the conditions that they have.


The end begins here for Andrew Strauss

Towards the end of top-scoring in England's 72 all out, Andrew Strauss actually began to look fairly comfortable at the crease. And then he got out, which sums up well his predicament over the past 30 months. Since the end of the 2009 Ashes, he has averaged under 31, with a single hundred in 24 Tests without ever looking horrendously out of form (one fifty in the last 14 innings).

He has done more than enough - and still does as captain - to continue for now, but questions will get louder from here on. At the start of a challenging year - and he will be 35 in a month's time - this feels like it could be the beginning of a longish end.


The Whatmore question

Management structures in sports are built on the most delicate balances. They work as much on chemistry between individuals as on theory. Mohsin Khan has now been Pakistan's interim coach for three assignments, all of which they have won. The jury is out on how much of a coach he actually is, rather than just a good manager, but he hasn't at least broken what he inherited and what didn't need fixing, which let's face it, has happened often with Pakistan.

On the other hand Dav Whatmore is a proven coach, which you could argue Pakistan need to evolve. But with a team as pendulous, a little nudge here or there easily upsets the balance and so even as the head says Whatmore should come (and he very likely will), the heart worries it may disturb what Pakistan have got, maybe not for the better.


The English middle order

They probably have not come across better spinners in a while, but 94 runs in 12 innings between Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Eoin Morgan point to serious problems in the engine room.

Bell has looked lost against Saeed Ajmal, Pietersen averages 4.25 (prompting a sage in the press box to wonder how he managed even that) but it is Morgan's place that is under greatest scrutiny.

His shot on the final day in Abu Dhabi, neither here nor there, was borne of a frazzled approach. Spinners across Sri Lanka and particularly India will look at footage of this series and allow their mouths to curl slowly into a knowing smile.


World batting is in a bit of trouble

England's 72 was the 13th time in the last three years that a side has been bowled out for under 100 and a minnow - Zimbabwe on the same day incidentally - features just once on that list. On most of those occasions, pace and swing has been responsible, but spin may play a role this year in Indian home Tests. After a decade of gluttony, we may be in for more rationed times and about time too.


Pitches in the UAE can be good for Test cricket

Andy Atkinson, the ICC pitch consultant, felt before the current international season began that the climate in the UAE was ideal for good Test surfaces and five Tests so far have proved him correct.

The pitches of 2010 against South Africa were an aberration, but with three results from five so far, they have been just right this season; they have offered batsmen runs, but also made sure fast bowlers and spinners alike have prospered.

Abu Dhabi was unfairly criticised for the Sri Lanka draw, where the truth is Pakistan let them save that game by dropping so many chances.


Pakistan need to play more Tests

To build on the progress of the last year, Pakistan need to play as many Tests as possible this year but it is not going to happen according to the current Future Tours Programme (FTP). After this series, their next confirmed assignment is to go to Sri Lanka in May-June; Bangladesh may or may not tour Pakistan in April and the prospect of India remains off the table. After Sri Lanka, Pakistan don't play a Test until they visit Zimbabwe and South Africa from December onwards. The momentum this side has built up - and remember as well it is, unusually, a pretty old side - could be lost in a stretch of inactivity.


The new Australia-India ...

Is Pakistan-England. Or is it that Australia-India rivalry was always the new Pakistan-England? The last 13 Tests between the two sides have seen six England wins, five Pakistan wins, outstanding cricket and more drama than any soap opera from either country.



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