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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

England v Pakistan talking points: Where it has gone wrong for Joe Root's side and Mickey Arthur's role in the tourists renaissance

Ahead of the second Test at Headingley, Paul Radley looks at the problems in the England camp and who should be to blame for their fall as they fight to prevent a first series home loss to Pakistan since 1996

England and their captain Joe Root did not have a lot to smile about in the first Test against Pakistan. Gareth Copley / Getty Images
England and their captain Joe Root did not have a lot to smile about in the first Test against Pakistan. Gareth Copley / Getty Images

Trevor Bayliss must go. Joe Root must go. James Anderson and Stuart Broad must go. Everyone must go! But Mickey Arthur is the best thing since sliced Hovis half and half.

The recriminations after Pakistan’s nine-wicket thrashing of England at Lord’s last week have been wide-ranging.

Whether the four-day turnaround between the end of the first Test and Friday’s second Test at Headingley is enough time for the inquest to reach a verdict is debatable. One thing is for sure, England are under pressure to stop the rot.

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Anderson/Broad must go

Michael Vaughan held the office of England captain with great poise, and no little success. But his reaction to their defeats since switching to media is entirely scattergun.

After the Lord’s humbling, he suggested they should think of ditching one of James Anderson or Stuart Broad.

Ridiculous, right? Broad got eight wickets in the one-before-last Test, to take his overall tally up to a not-unsubstantial 411.

And Anderson? Over the past 12 months, England’s leading Test wicket-taker has 68 wickets in 15 Tests. His average in that time of 19.36 is a vast improvement on his overall career one of 27.34.

So the bare stats do not remotely support Vaughan’s point. But it does not mean he is wrong.

What is Cook’s problem?

Broad and Anderson may be productive, but they are still playing in a failing team. So, too, is Alastair Cook. But ditching him? Just as crazy a theory as the Broad/Anderson one.

The former captain has more England runs than anyone else, made an away Ashes double-century just a few months back, and held the first innings together at Lord’s.

But England’s one constant and overriding failing is the dearth of match-winning totals. A generally under-firing batting line up has been undermined in particular by the fact there is seldom a platform set by their openers.

Many have been tried. And what did, to name a few, Adam Lyth, Michael Carberry, Nick Compton, and most recently Mark Stoneman have in common? Cook was their England opening partner.

Senior players

Vaughan’s broader point was that Joe Root might be finding it tough to captain an XI with such gilded senior pros.

This may be closer to the nub of the issue. The England starting XI has six guaranteed starters: Cook, Root, Anderson, Broad, Ben Stokes (hamstring-injury permitting) and Jonny Bairstow.

It feels like the other five, whoever they may be in any given Test, are only a couple of bad innings away from being dropped. At Headingley, this group will likely be Keaton Jennings, Dawid Malan, Jos Buttler, Dom Bess, and one of Chris Woakes or Mark Wood.

Whose fault is that? The established players might be part of the problem, without even being conscious of it.

Off form

Mike Brearley, another celebrated, Ashes-winning, former England captain of a rather more considered mind than Vaughan, made a point in his recent book On Form.

He told a story of his playing days with his county side Middlesex. It was pointed out to him that Wilf Slack, a shy newcomer in the side of the late 1970s and early '80s, was more prolific when opening with someone other than Brearley himself.

“After some pressing on my part,” Brearley wrote, “Slack managed to tell me he felt inhibited when batting with me, that he experienced me as a disapproving eye.”

As a trained psychoanalyst, Brearley well understood people. And yet he had not realised that he had been implicitly judgmental, to the extent it had a negative effect on a teammate.

Got the T-shirt

England’s established core might not all outwardly be “been-there, done-that, have I told you about when I won the Ashes away?” types.

It seems unrealistic to think Cook, for example, sits there regaling newcomers to the side with that time he scored 235 not out to save the Gabba Test match.

But, unwittingly, they may be conveying an additional pressure on the less-established players, extra to the exacting challenge of trying to combat a highly-talented young Pakistan opposition.

Talking Mickey

Talking of Pakistan, they benefited from the upside of the hysteria after Lord’s. In particular, their coach Mickey Arthur, who, it is now widely held, has “transformed” them.

Which is the lavish praise, given his record in the Test format at least. Since taking over in May 2016, Arthur’s Pakistan have lost 11 of the 19 Test matches they have played, prompting a slide from No 1 in the world rankings to No 7.

They also, last year, lost a full “home” series in UAE, against an unremarkable Sri Lanka side, for the first time.

So, while their brilliance in the first Test was uplifting, Arthur’s effects on the Test side might need to be considered over an extended period.