Tag Archive for PakvEng

Pakistan v England tour review

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.

Should be a fun weekend

Including tonight, there are three cricket matches, two rugby matches and a football match that I’m planning to follow closely this weekend. England’s women have their last two (dead rubber) T20 matches tonight and Sunday night, whilst the men play tomorrow morning looking to level the series. At the same time as the men’s match, however, there is rugby on as England play Wales at Twickenham and when that ends Bath will play away to Exeter in the Premiership. Finally, Sunday morning is the League Cup final with the Reds favourites to win a first bit of silverware for a while.

As far as predictions go, I’m still sticking with my original 4-1 prediction for the England women. They very nearly (and arguably ought to have) lost the third match, and whilst winning that will give them a mental edge for the last two it could be negated by the fact that they are now dead rubbers. T20 is an inherently unpredictable format and I still think the Kiwis will sneak a win this weekend. That said, I would not be surprised if England got the whitewash.

As far as the men go, the loss on the first T20 was, whilst not entirely unexpected, quite disappointing given that England probably should have won after the start to which we got off chasing. (It seems that we simply cannot chase 145 in the UAE.) Although the batting mostly let us down, we did drop a couple of catches, which may have cost us. The turning point was probably Bopara’s wicket, but I think KP’s was actually more important. He had picked up right where he left off in the ODIs and looked like he might have been able to knock off at least half of the target by himslef, but he was well caught on the boundary for 33. The catch also cost us six runs, as the ball was on course to clear the rope, the important of which should not be underestimated. (We only lost by eight runs.) For the next match I’m tipping Pakistan to win again, and not merely because the first two series were both whitewashes. England, despite being champions and world number one in this format, still don’t tend to look terribly convincing. I suspect a large part of England’s strong T20 record is actually down to luck, (the rest being very good bowling) though that’s to be expected in this format.

In the rugby, I did not see anything in the second round to persuade me that my initial assessment of Wales and England was incorrect. England will have home field advantage, but I think that is about it. Whilst we looked composed and competent for the last half an hour or so against Italy, there were still a lot of mistakes in that match as there were against Scotland. I expect Wales to punish those mistakes a lot more efficiently than Scotland or Italy did, as well as to make fewer themselves. If England can play very error-free rugby then they will have a chance with the crowd behind them, however I don’t think they will be quite up to the level required to beat a strong looking Wales, even at Twickenham.

Finally, the League Cup final on Sunday. Liverpool are strong favourites (2-5, according the Guardian), of course, playing 5th in the Championship Cardiff. That said, we have had problems forcing victories over lower placed side this year (though more at Anfield than anywhere else). Cardiff also have a very good record against us, and we saw Arsenal upset just last year. That said, I do think we will win, though it will probably be nervy for a considerable portion of the match. As good as Reina et al are, I expect we will ship probably one goal, but with Andy starting to find a bit of form up front and Suarez looking to make up for lost time I think we will score two or three to take home the trophy.

England win by six/nine wickets

Suddenly I’m writing the words ‘England win’ a lot. A couple of nights ago the women’s side won their first T20 by six wickets. It was rather closer than it ought to have been, Anya Shrubsole took 5-11 (all five bowled or lbw) in four overs as the Kiwis finished on 80-9. It was at this point that I made the in hindsight ill-advised comment ‘should be a straightforward chase’ on Twitter. Needless to say we got bogged down and after losing a few wickets were actually behind the rate for a time. For the Kiwis, Kate Broadmore at one point had figures of 2.2-2-0-1. Unlike Shrubsole, however, she couldn’t take more than that one wicket and Sarah Taylor hit a composed and unbeaten 31 off 34 to see England home with six wickets and 14 balls to spare. Never in doubt… The second match of the series is tonight/tomorrow morning and whilst New Zealand will take heart from their bowling display I’m tipping England to win again.

The far more surprising win was for the men’s side. If I had known before the tour that there would be 3-0 scorelines in both the Test and ODI series I would have assumed that we had won the Tests and been hammered in the ODIs. As it was, England turned in one of their most comprehensive ever ODI wins away from home. Only three times previously have England played top tier opposition away from home and chased down a target with more balls to spare than the 76 balls to spare that they had in this match. The most recent was against South Africa in November 2009 when England lost three wickets en route to 121 off 31.2 overs. England also won with 94 balls remaining at the MCG in January 1979, a 40-over ODI in which Geoffery Boycott scored an unbeaten 39 off 107 deliveries. England took just 28.2 overs to chase down the 102 they needed for victory and I’m sure the crowd went home thinking that they got their money’s worth. I think a case could be made that this was a more comprehensive victory than any of those, however. England looked today like they could easily have chased down another hundred runs. There were standout performances from Cook and Finn again, but KP was the real star. He looked today like the KP of old, a man bristling with intent and for once not likely to give his wicket away. Once he got into his stride the only thing that looked like it might stop him from reaching three figures was if England ran out of runs to chase. As it was, Cook’s dismissal meant that KP could get to an unbeaten 111, his joint highest ODI score.

This puts England in a very rare position for overseas ODI series. Excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, the last time England won an overseas ODI series by two or more matches was a 3-0 whitewash of New Zealand in 1992. If England can win the last match, it will be only the second time overseas and fifth time ever that England have won four or more matches in an ODI series.

England win by 20 runs

Only an ODI could be this close and still this dull. Pakistan needed 251 to win and yet never seemed to go for the runs until it was too late. They hung around, matched England’s score and matched the D/L par score for almost the entire innings, and apart from a brief blitz by Afridi in the last powerplay they never showed any real attacking intent. It was a match in which the result was not decided until a couple of overs before it ended and yet it was never gripping. There were 99 overs played and about ninety of them followed the ‘dull middle over’ pattern. If it had been a Test match it might have been thrilling, but as it was it was just waiting for something to actually happen.

Part of that was the England bowlers who were very good again, Finn turning in his second successive 4-34, but once again losing out on man of the match to his centurion captain. Jimmy Anderson, however, who I suggested should not play in ODIs took the vital wicket of Afridi in what turned out to be a wicket-maiden. I still say Jimmy should not play ODIs, or at least seldom play. My point about him needing to be fit and firing in Tests has not changed, but he showed today just how talented he is.

I always think that ODIs should be played before Tests in a tour as to do otherwise is often anticlimactic, as we saw with the series against India last summer and the Ashes before that, but I think England will be particularly ruing that the Tests came before the ODIs on this tour. England played Saeed Ajmal much better today, partly due to practise and partly due to the format demanding that they attack a bit more and not having men around the bat. If the ODIs had come first they would have got their practise in the less important matches and they might have learnt the value of positive play before now. I don’t think it will be changed in the near future, but it is something at which I think the ECB ought to look.

England win by 130 runs

Up until very recently, the only thing that would be remarkable about that scoreline in a Test match would be the absence of ‘an innings and’ but for England it is an unusually good result for an ODI. The selection wasn’t quite what I had predicted before the match. I had suggested that Dernbach would play instead of Bresnan on the back of the performances in the warmup match, but England played neither of them, instead opting for Jimmy Anderson. This surprised me (not at the time, as I was asleep, but when I got up) as I had thought Jimmy had rather fallen out of favour during the last World Cup. I’m actually quite happy just to see Jimmy rested during the limited overs matches and saved for Tests; the last thing we need is a bowler of his calibre picking up an injury due to an ODI on which he is unlikely to have much of an impact. Anderson is a better bowler overall than Dernbach, however, so the selection makes sense from that standpoint. Jimmy actually did not fare that well, however; he only got six overs and did not take a wicket. He also went at four an over, which is not bad for an ODI, but Pakistan’s overall rate was only 3.7.

Finn, of course, was the pick of the bowlers with his analysis of 10-1-34-4. Those four were not cheap wickets either, they were the top four batsmen in Pakistan’s order. He blew them away to leave Paksitan at one point 40-4 and it was always going to be a struggle from there. Credit should also go to Graeme Swann, for his 7-3-19-2. He actually was the sixth bowler used (Bopara got an over) but he was instrumental in keeping Pakistan tied down as England turned the screw. Once again the batting was not particularly good, but they did enough today. Cook led from the front, something at which he has got rather good at doing in ODIs. His 137 off 142 was enough to win him Man of the Match, with which it is hard to argue. Especially after England’s batting woes in the Tests it was a much needed innings. He scored seven more than the entire Pakistan team and more than the rest of his teammates combined, which says a lot about how important his innings was. He also scored at nearly a run a ball, which should help suppress suggestions that he and Trott should not play in the same team. Each have perfectly respectable strike rates.

It should be noted that as it stands this is little more than a ‘feel-good’ win for England. The batting was still heavily reliant on one player and Finn’s early burst effectively ended the match, allowing the rest to play with the pressure off. Pakistan did not bat particularly well (though they hardly excelled in the Tests either) and England can probably expect them to come back. For now at least, England have a slight upper hand, nothing more.

ODI selection

The first Pakistan v England ODI is tomorrow. I don’t think England ought to be particularly optimistic, their only warmup has come from crushing the Lions and Pakistan are a rather better side. The Lions match did seem to suggest that a lot of the youngsters are not yet ready to be called up the the senior side, however, and with Buttler injured I think I’d be hesitant to call any of the Lions players up for the first ODI. (Though I wouldn’t mind seeing them for subsequent matches if the seniors continue to underperform.) Ideally, I would also extend this to Kieswetter, who played for the Lions before coming to the UAE. We’ve seen that runs for the Lions are no guarantee of success, and I’d like to see Davies (better ODI average and S/R than Kieswetter) given another chance. Unfortunately he isn’t in the squad.

There is also the Bopara question. I don’t harbour the same antipathy toward him in the shorter formats as I do in Test matches (he can’t do nearly as much damage in only 100 overs) but I am still reluctant to see him play. He also fared the worst of any of the senior players in the warmup, scoring only 36 (off 45). With none of the Lions players standing up and demanding selection I’d keep him in, but only until Buttler is fit. There is also an interesting question around the bowlers; they did exceptionally well to bowl the Lions out for 97 and should probably stay unchanged, but they did so without Stuart Broad, who has been England’s star performer. Before the match I would have replaced Dernbach with Broad, but the former’s 3-21 off eight overs probably demands selection. The odd man out is probably going to be the fit again Tim Bresnan who took only one wicket and went at 4.6 in the warmup. If any of the other bowlers struggle in the opening matches, however, I would not hesitate to bring Bresnan back in. My XI for the first ODI would thus be:

Cook*
KP
Trott
Morgan
Bopara
Kieswetter†
Patel
Broad
Swann
Finn
Dernbach

Saturday Review – 11 Feb

This week has been primarily notable for the predictable, if still disappointing, dénouement of the third Pakistan v England Test and the subsequent reset for the limited overs leg. England handily beat the Lions (which surprised me), meaning there will probably not be dramatic changes for the first ODI on Monday. (More on which tomorrow.) Pakistan warmed up by playing Afghanistan in the latter’s first full international. The Afghanis lost, but did themselves proud. There were also quite a few ODIs in the southern hemisphere. The Australian tri-series kicked off with three relatively poorly attended matches. India overcame Sri Lanka by four wickets in Perth, but otherwise little of note happened. And Zimbabwe’s horror tour of New Zealand continued with two massive defeats in the ODIs and a heavy loss in the first T20 as well. It was a surprisingly exciting week, and there were some very good pieces written, my favourite of which follow:

Third defeat completes humiliating whitewash of England – Batting For Hours

The revolution has been televised – Alex Malcolm, Cricinfo

Phil Tufnell’s England player ratings – BBC

Pakistan v England – England’s series report card – Gary Naylor, The Guardian

Jos Buttler, the latest candidate to be England’s Chosen One – Barney Ronay, The Guardian

Pakistan v England limited overs preview

England are looking to bounce back in the limited overs leg of the UAE tour, having lost a Test series for the first time since the start of 2009. On the face of it, they look about as likely to bounce back as they are to go back in time and play the Test series over. Since returning home from that ill-fated tour of the West Indies England have won 31 and lost 30 ODIs, but are 14-17 away from home. In Asia, going back to when England played Pakistan in 2005, England have won just 13 and lost 25 ODIs. England will make some changes to the side that was beaten in the Tests, with Bell out of the side and KP set to open. Tim Bresnan is also back fit and will provide a good bowling option, whilst Steven Finn performed admirably in India last year. I very much doubt any of that will be enough for England to perform any better than they did in India, however. Pakistan are probably a tougher challenge than India, and England did not make that series close.

England are also considered the best T20 team at the moment and are still World Champions in that format, but were also hammered by the West Indies at the end of last summer. (Though I got the impression that no one really cared.) England also won the T20 in India, which was reasonably impressive. There will be three T20s, so it will be interesting to see how a full series plays out. The short form of the game makes it very hard to predict the result, but I think that uncertainty will benefit England. After the results in the Tests, the T20s are probably their best chance to get something out of the tour. At the very least it will be practice for the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka.

Pakistan v England review and player marks

There’s not much more to say about how England performed in this series. No batsman scored a hundred and only Matt Prior averaged over 30 in the series. England were not just poor with the bat, but historically awful. The only series of three or more matches in which England have averaged lower than the 19.06 they did in the UAE was the 1888 Ashes. From that perspective, it’s amazing to think that we definitely ought to have wont he second Test and maybe even the third. It’s hard to know which is more surprising: that the bowlers kept us in the match after the batsmen had failed so badly or that the batsmen threw away such good positions. I’ve compiled marks out of ten for each of the players:

Pakistan
Misbah-ul-Haq* – 7/10
It was only a mediocre series with the bat from the Pakistan captain, but such was the nature of the series that his average of 36 was still fifth highest. More importantly for Pakistan is that he led the side well. It didn’t seem to take a lot to beat England’s batsmen, but he did not give them very many openings with his bowling changes and field placings.

Mohammad Hafeez – 6/10
Only one score of note with the bat, 88 in the first match, but he made it into double figures each of his other innings as well. His main contribution was with the ball, spinning it early in the innings. He took five wickets at 16 apiece, including the wicket of Cook on the first morning that started the rot for England.

Taufeeq Umar – 3/10
Passed fifty in the first Test, but was dismissed cheaply by Swann and Anderson in the next two. Victim of some good bowling, but did not look assured and did not defend well.

Azhar Ali – 9/10
Overcame an indifferent start to the series to finish top of the averages thanks to a match winning 157 in the final Test. He also scored a crucial (and possibly also match winning) 68 in the second Test and showed considerable maturity throughout.

Younis Khan – 6/10
A high score of 127 in a series where only one other batsman made it to three figures would seem to require more than six points out of ten, but he only scored 66 runs in the other four innings in the series. His high score before that knock had been 37 in the opening Test, and that had been ignominiously ended when he was lbw to Jonathan Trott.

Asad Shafiq – 5/10
A very creditable series for a batsman from whom little was expected. He passed 40 in three of the five innings in which he batted, but had difficulty going on and his top score was only 58.

Adnan Akmal† – 4/10
In rating the latest Akmal’s performance it is important to compare him with other wicket-keepers, not just his infamous brother. He did a reasonable job with the gloves, but appealed every time the ball hit the pads. (Though I will concede that a lot of them were out.) Had a hilarious drop early in England’s third Test run chase, but it cost them little. Poor series with the bat, but better than most were expecting.

Abdur Rehman – 9/10
A fantastic series for the left arm spinner, he finished only behind Ajmal in the series wicket tally and was the main destroyer in England’s second and third Test collapses.

Umar Gul – 8/10
Very quietly had a brilliant series. All of the headlines were about England woes against spin and with the effectiveness of Ajmal and Rehman he only needed to bowl 74 overs in the series. In those 74 overs he took 11 wickets at 22.27 and with a strike rate second only to Ajmal.

Saeed Ajmal – 10/10
Came off a brilliant 2011 and could not have made a better start to 2012. England could not read his variations and never got over the mess he made of them in the first innings of the series. Bell in particular looked all at sea facing him. Deserved man of the series.

Aizaz Cheema- 1/10
Only played in the first and third Tests, but was hardly needed. Bowled only 27 overs and took one wicket for 70 runs. Scored 0* in each of his three innings with the bat.

Junaid Khan – 0/10
Sadly, never really showed up. His biggest contribution to the second Test was a terrible drop in the deep with Prior batting in the first innings. Took 0-33 off eight overs in the first innings, did not bowl in the second.

England
Andrew Strauss* – 6/10
Led from the front with a good 56 in the last Test, but that was the high point as he struggled to get onto the front foot the entire series. He used his bowlers to good effect and did a good job keeping spirits up when England were in the field.

Alastair Cook – 5/10
Could not replicate his form from the summer, though he came closest of any English batsman to score a century this series. His soft dismissal in the first innings of the first Test set the tone for the series and he fell cheaply to start the disastrous run chase in the second Test too.

Jonathan Trott – 5/10
Second in England’s batting averages, but needless to say he still had a poor series. Made a good 74 in the second Test, but had an untimely illness in the second and could not meaningfully contribute to the run chase.

Kevin Pietersen – 1/10
Not merely a poor series from KP, but an abysmal one. He threw his wicket away more often than not, his efforts in the second innings of the first Test deserving special criticism. He finally started to find some form in the third Test, but still could not master the trick of hitting the ball with the bat when defending.

Ian Bell – 1/10
Poor Ian. Only once did he look like he could pick the variations from Ajmal and when he did he was trapped by Gul instead. His dismissal in the third Test run chase was one of the worst one will ever see, the very picture of a batsman out of form. From a man who came into the series on the back of an imperious 200 against India, it was rather a shock.

Eoin Morgan – 1/10
Eoin Morgan was supposed to be the man who would play spin. Supposedly his unorthodox style and ability to score quickly and to all parts of the field were going to be invaluable against spin. Instead he consistently threw his wicket away to the spinners. Just for a change in the last Test he threw his wicket away to Gul instead, but the entire series clearly showed up a dearth of application.

Matt Prior† – 7/10
England’s best batsman, plus another good series with the gloves (though he did not have a huge amount to do behind the stumps). He started the series with an unbeaten 70 as England collapsed and finished it with an unbeaten 49. His form dipped in between, but he was one of only two batsmen to get into double figures in the second Test run chase.

Stuart Broad – 9/10
Put in an absolutely amazing effort in the series. He was the pick of the English bowlers with 13 wickets at just over 20 and put England into excellent positions in the second and third Tests. He was more than handy with the bat as well, averaging more than KP, Bell and Morgan and scoring more in one innings (58* in the first innings of the second Test) than Bell did in the series.

Graeme Swann – 8/10
Rather unexpectedly found himself as the second spinner when Monty returned to the side, but still performed admirably. He finished with 13 and an almost identical strike rate to Broad, but conceded about sixty more runs. As usual, he was most effective against left-handers

Jimmy Anderson – 8/10
Took a bit of a back seat to Broad, but certainly did not embarrass himself. He was very unlucky to end up with only nine wickets, but bowled a very tight, probing line throughout.

Monty Panesar – 9/10
England sprung a surprise by playing two spinners in Abu Dhabi, and Monty took the opportunity superbly. He took 6-62 in the second innings to set up what should have been a very straightforward run chase. He was the only English bowler to take five wickets in a match in the series and he did so twice, picking up 14 in all.

Chris Tremlett – 0/10
Only played in the first Test and only had a chance to bowl in the first innings. He took 0-53, never looked particularly threatening and was dropped in favour of Monty.

Despite the poor performance of England in the series, I would not make wholesale changes for Sri Lanka. It is worth remembering that we did come up against some very good bowlers in conditions which suited them. KP and Bell averaged over 70 and over 100 last year, respectively, so to suggest that they be dropped over one poor series is very, very harsh. Similarly, Andrew Strauss has not been in the best of form with the bat, but he is easily the best leader of the side. Cook showed in the ODIs in India that he is not ready for the captaincy yet, and I would certainly not want to entrust Broad with it as I would want some England to still have reviews left after the first over. In any case, Strauss was the best of the full time batsmen in the third Test.

A change I would make is that I would drop Morgan.He has shown in this series that he is not a Test batsman. That is not to say that he will never be one, but he was brought into the side on the back of limited overs performances and I think a season playing first class cricket will do his temperament no end of good. In his place I would play Tim Bresnan, assuming he is fit (which seems likely). Whilst it seems odd to suggest playing one fewer batsman after the struggles in the UAE, Bres has a Test batting average of 45. Not only is this very reasonable on its own, it is actually 15 runs higher than Morgan averages. It’s good enough that I would pick him as a batsman over Mogan and Bopara even if he did not bowl a single ball.

That is the only change I would make, however, the other batsmen have good enough records that they certainly deserve another chance against the weaker Sri Lankan bowling and Monty has easily done enough to stay in the starting XI. It’s been a poor series, but these players will be strongly motivated to put that behind them and play well in Sri Lanka.

Dubai, third Test, day three

England have not yet lost. It’s more of a cruelty than anything else, however. Pakistan collapsed abruptly to some sharp spin in the evening session to leave England a very improbable target of 324 to win. England made it to stumps on 36-0.

The highlight of the day, the match, and maybe the series, was Azhar Ali. He scored a fantastic 150, the highest individual score of the series and a fantastic demonstration of how to bat on a pitch like this. He seldom took any undue risks, but scored when he had the opportunity to do so and rotated the strike well. It took over nine hours and demonstrated the utmost maturity and patience of which we have seen too little in Test cricket recently. It was an innings of Cook-esque brilliance and without it England’s target would be looking a lot more gettable. It may well be that he has hit a match winning knock for his country in a match and series were almost all of the batsman have failed and he thoroughly deserves every bit of praise he gets.

Pakistan lost their last seven wickets for only 34 runs and lost them to some sharp spin from Monty (who bagged another five-fer) and Swann, so I don’t think England will score another 288 runs and win the Test. Stranger things have happened, of course, and our batting did look a bit better in the first innings, but it is unlikely. England need a good foundation from this pair, but I fear they will need to put on about 200 to make England favourites as it’s not uncommon for a team for team to get off to a good start in a run chase and then collapse to a big defeat. (England chasing 400+ at Lord’s in 2005 is a good example.) For England to win the match they will have to bat out of their skins on a pitch that is now turning sharply. They won’t quite need their highest score in the series, which is 327, but they will need someone to step up and score a century in the same way that Ali did for Pakistan. It is a batting order which we know can score runs and if they manage to knock these off it will be a famous victory. By definition, however, famous victories are quite rare; more likely is that they will get close enough to make us optimistic and then lose anyway. Like I said: it’s cruel.