Make no mistake, this was a dreadful tour for England. It’s easy to forget that in the wake of a 4-0 ODI victory and a 2-1 T20 victory, but when it really counted we lost 0-3.
Our batsmen mostly displayed either an infuriating inconsistency on the tour or were simply consistently awful. This was a middle order that came into the series having thrashed the best in the world in England and the second best in the world in their own backyard. 517-1, 620-5, 513 and 644 v Australia in Australia and 474-8, 544, 710-7 and 591-6 v India suddenly gave way to 72 all out. The spin of Ajmal was a contributing factor, of course, but it was not the sharp, quick spin of someone like Warne. It was theoretically playable spin, but England could not play it. I thought before the series that the batsman would win it for us, but instead they did the exact opposite. And then, incredibly surprisingly, they turned their fortunes around in the ODIs. Captain Cook scored two tons and an eighty, whilst KP chipped in with a pair of imperious tons and a match winning 50 in the last T20. That’s the same KP who averaged 11 in the Tests. The turnaround was not quite inexplicable, one of England’s problems in the Tests was an unwillingness to go after Ajmal and not just sit back and block. In the ODIs they had to try to score and had the extra advantage of fewer men around the bat and so had better success. (Though that’s a relative measure, Ajmal still did very well.)
Cook and Prior are probably the only ones to come through with their reputations unscathed; Cook had the highest individual score for England in the Tests, plus good success in the ODIs and Prior had the highest average in the Tests (the only one over 30). Strauss, however, did not embarrass himself to the extent of many of the batsmen. He was the only one to look relatively assured during the 72 all out debacle, and for a time it looked like he and Prior might lead England to victory. Strauss then also ground out a fifty in the third Test run chase. I know none of that sounds like much, but the important aspect was that he looked like he had learnt how to play, albeit too late. None of the other batsmen looked like they had learnt anything at all. KP, meanwhile, will coast into the next series on the back of his ODI and T20 heroics, but he had an absolutely terrible Test series and that must not be swept under the rug. He looked, as he so often does, like an idiot. And I don’t mean in the proverbial sense, I mean he looked literally stupid. He so often does not seem capable of learning from experience and has always had very poor impulse control. He did better in the ODIs, but he has to find a way to play sensibly when it matters. When it comes off, as it did at Lord’s last year, it is majestic and when he only does that in pyjama cricket it is so, so frustrating. There was also the limited overs introduction of Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow. Buttler was much hyped after an incredible Lions tour to Sri Lanka, but he did not look quite ready for this level yet. Bairstow did rather better, hitting a match winning 60* in the second T20 and generally looking quite composed. Bopara was another who was given a chance in the limited overs leg, and scored two fifties in the ODIs. This has led, of course, to another wave of suggestions for him to bat at six in the Test series. Very annoyingly, I except Flower and Strauss will agree. Despite my saying that Morgan has to go, I cannot overemphasise that Bopara is not the answer! He has failed in every chance that he has been given in Tests. If we are going to persist with playing a batsman at six then we should give a chance to one of the Lions players. There are no fewer than three candidates, any of whom would not be worse than Bopara. Personally, I would play another bowler, but…
In the vicious battle for worst batsman of the tour, Morgan edges out Bell by virtue of failing for the entire tour as opposed to just the Tests. Morgan showed clearly that he does not have the temperament for Test cricket, at least not yet, and then he abjectly failed to redeem himself in the limited overs matches. This despite the fat that he is supposed to be a limited overs expert, able to find any gap in the field. He did sod all, then gave an interview that showed he was not willing to work and change to help the team. As I said last week, it’s time for him to go back to Ireland. Bell, meantime, had a much more anomalous tour. He was the best batsman in the world last year, averaging over 100, but he could seemingly not buy a run this time. Even when he started to look like he might know roughly how to play Ajmal he promptly became unable to play Gul and his last dismissal of the series was horrific. He has a very good record as a batsman, however, and I expect him to improve.
The one outstanding bright spot on the tour was the bowlers. The 0-3 scoreline was fair in the end, but the absolutely outstanding bowling effort prevented it from being in the same league as the hammering we gave to India during the summer. The only bowler who did not perform was Tremlett, who probably ought not have been selected at all. Graeme Swann had a slightly below par tour, but still did quite well despite taking a backseat to Monty in the second two Tests. Broad, Jimmy and Monty were outstanding, however. Monty deserves special praise for doing so well after being out of the Test side for so long, but Broad and Anderson were not supposed to be so effective on the slower pitches. Broad was probably the pick of the bowlers for me, as he continued his revival from the ‘enforcer’ phase of his career. He pitched the ball up and got it to nip back at the top of off stump time and time again, and the Pakistani batsmen seemed to have no answer. He continued his good performance into the limited overs leg as well, including some good captaincy in the T20 series win. In that limited overs leg we also were treated to an outstanding performance from Steven Finn. He picked up where he left off in the India ODIs and ran through the Pakistani top order. He appears to have added a yard of pace and some accuracy and there are many calling for him to be in the Test side. I think that might be a bit premature, I am always hesitant to try to apply ODI form to Tests, but at the same time I probably would not have dropped him from the Test side to begin with. The problem is that there is no one for him to replace. He certainly has not shown that he is a better bowler than Tim Bresnan, let alone Jimmy and Broad. I think for now he is still the fourth seamer, which means he is going to be carrying the drinks until someone is injured or England decide to bat Prior at six and Bresnan at seven. (And the latter is apparently never going to happen, even though it would also solve the problem of who to bat at six.)
As tempting as it would be to say that England won the tour 2-1, everyone knows that Tests count at least quintuple and that England lost the tour rather heavily. I have every confidence that the management will look most closely at the Tests when analysing the tour, but it is important the the media and fans do the same. We cannot say that KP is off the hook due to his ODI runs, nor can we say that Bopara is a Test number six. We cannot think that this was a good tour, or even a decent tour. Most importantly, we cannot think that anything short of a pair of comprehensive victories over Sri Lanka will redeem England. That willingness to gloss over flaws has become a defining characteristic of Indian cricket recently and it is almost certainly related to their loss of form. We must not allow it to happen in England as well.