Today marks exactly 13 months since the end of the Perth test of the last Ashes series and England marked the occasion in an appropriate style. The first innings of this match was the first time we had been bowled out for under 200 since Perth and in a touching homage to the dual collapses of that match they only managed only 160 in the second innings here. Pakistan’s successful chase of 15 to win sealed England’s first defeat since that Perth Test as well.
As at Perth, the batsmen were the primary culprits in the defeat and today they were almost entirely culpable. The bowlers put in an admirable and impressive performance yesterday to keep the match within (theoretical) reach, but the batsmen threw it away completely. It was even the bowlers who avoided an innings defeat; Graeme Swann scored 39 and Jimmy Anderson had an unbeaten 15 to complement his 12 in the first innings. Graeme Swann actually scored more runs in the match than any of the top six batsmen and only one fewer than Matt Prior. Trott had a decent match too, he was unlucky to get out to a leg side strangle in the first innings, but looked composed for his 49 in the second. That said, he could have and probably should have stuck around to anchor an English resistance but got skittish with his half century looming and played an ill-disciplined shot outside off and was caught behind.
There may have been other victims of ill-fortune in the innings, Cook misplayed a hook for what seems like the first time in his career and I will have more on Strauss later, but by and large they have very little to excuse them. KP in particular needs to have someone take him by the collar and shout at him for a bit, or whatever it takes to make him realise the value of shot selection. His shot today was absolutely inexcusable; with England in trouble on 25-2 he came in and played a hook on nought and top edged the ball straight to the man at deep square leg. The fieldsman had been placed there for exactly that purpose in a ploy so transparent even a premiership footballer would have seen through it, but KP either missed it (very possible) or simply assumed he could beat it (also very possible). Either way it was one of the most stupid and irresponsible shots you will see, only Brad Haddin could hope to match it.
One of the consequences of the top order failure was that Eoin Morgan was given the chance to redeem himself for letting the side down in the first innings. Instead he played the exact same type of innings; he got in, looked settled and promising, then got out tamely. It is a continuation of a common theme; if the top five score well and put the side in a good position, Morgan can take the game away. When they fail, however, Morgan seems incapable of rescuing the side. Fortunately for Morgan and England the top order succeed a lot more often than they fail, but it does call into question the wisdom of having a batsman at number six who only scores runs when they are not needed. It is a very similar criticism to that which was levelled at Ian Bell for many years, but it wasn’t an unfounded criticism then and it isn’t now either. Bell worked on his temperament and is now one of England’s best batsmen. Morgan must do the same; right now he does not look like a Test calibre batsman. He must also do it quickly, as England have a very talented Lions squad and may not persist with Morgan for as long as they did with Bell.
I mentioned Strauss earlier; he was at the centre of a DRS controversy just before lunch. With England and Strauss each on six he tried to turn one down the leg side and was given out caught behind. Strauss reviewed it and the decision was upheld despite HotSpot showing nothing. Strauss may very well have been out, there was a noise and he took a bit of time in reviewing it, but that did not stop the predictable criticism of the DRS. The fact that Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal had been similarly given out despite the review earlier in the day added fuel to the debate with many labelling it as evidence against the DRS. Except it was no such thing, of course. Both batsmen had been given out by the on field umpire, Billy Bowden in both cases; the DRS made no difference. Without the DRS they would both still have been given out, fairly or otherwise. If the decisions were incorrect (which is not at all clear, especially for Strauss) then the fault is with the umpire who made the decision and it makes no sense to use that as an argument for why we should not have a review system. Needless to say this did not stop people from claiming that the DRS gave Strauss out.
All the DRS and batting commotion aside, we are left with the fact that England are now 0-1 down with two Tests left. The next one will be at Abu Dhabi before they return to Dubai for the third. The worry for England will be that they will be tailored for draws, as we saw in the Windies in 2009. Fortunately, England are resilient; we saw that clearly yesterday, if not so much today. Before today England had only lost four Tests since Kingston 2009 and each time they won the next one emphatically. The only caveat to that is the innings defeat at Jo’burg in 2010 which was the last in the series. England followed that defeat with six consecutive wins, but the first four were against Bangladesh. England will hope that the comparisons with Perth continue, however; they followed that defeat with three consecutive innings victories. These are not just meaningless filler stats. England respond well to defeat. They are masters at analysing flaws and working to correct them. That is not a guarantee of success in Abu Dhabi, of course, but only someone who has not watched any cricket in the past three years would automatically write England off.