Another day, another poor show with the bat. Couple this with the first underwhelming English performance with the ball on this tour and we have for the third time this series a predicament which sees England staring a Test Match defeat directly in the eye.
England’s paltry 141 with the bat was perhaps slightly excused after Pakistan were skittled for 99 on day one, but today’s show of solidarity from Azhar Ali and Younis Khan proved that the pitch was, in fact, fairly innocuous and provided the perspective necessary to highlight just how poor England were again throughout their first innings.
Though the bowlers too struggled on day two of the third and final Test, it is hardly fair to apportion much blame in their direction. It has after all been their efforts, almost in isolation, that have spared England complete humiliation in their first Test series since being named the world’s leading side in the format.
Today, the most notable of the negated England bowling threats was that of Graeme Swann whose usually very effective off-spin was made to look entirely impotent by Pakistan’s star performers on the day. It may sound a little cliched to say that Younus Khan and Azhar Ali succeeded with the bat due to their ‘patience’ early on and their progressive build towards ‘taking the attack’ to England, but that just about sums up the majority of the day’s play.
Aside from this show of resilience from Pakistan and England’s first slip of the series into the realms of ineffective bowling, the current cause for major concern must be the lacklustre batting displays which are a world away from Down Under at the start 2011 and the run-thirst demonstrated on home turf against India in the summer.
The clearest indicator of the fall from grace for England’s batting line-up on this tour is the comparison of their averages so far in the three match Test-Series with those put together during India’s visit in the summer, where England of course dished out a whitewash series victory of their own.
During England’s ‘Indian Summer’ the vast majority of their batting line-up enjoyed huge success and it was Alistair Cook at the top of the order who led them out of the blocks in style, carrying on from his outstanding form away to Australia in the Ashes. His average in the India series was very healthy, up in the high fifties, even if that was courtesy of an outstanding knock of 294 at Egbaston. This stunning contribution in Birmingham meant that his series average was nearly 40 runs-per-innings higher than his collective contributions against Pakistan this winter.
Cook’s partner in crime, Andrew Strauss, didn’t have quite as healthier average as his fellow opener but the captain did manage an average in the high thirties which is better than his low thirties average so far this series.
Jonathan Trott, the recent recipient of the ICC’s top award at their yearly celebration of all things cricket, may have suffered a series ruining injury over the summer against India but prior to this he had chipped in with a series opening 70 before a slump which saw him average in the mid-twenties. His form with the bat in this series has actually seen an improvement on his contribution in the summer, with his average up in the thirties but three scores of sub-twenty out of five innings is still a cause for concern.
Kevin Pietersen who seemed to have returned to something like his dominant best against India with a world-beating average of 89, has too struggled throughout the present tour. After some worrying early indicators in the warm-up matches, KP has continued to struggle against the Pakistan attack managing a measly 49 collective runs scored over his five innings’.
Along with Pietersen, it was Ian Bell who really shone over the summer with an almost as imperious average of 84. Sadly though for Bell who’s summer was seen as something of an affirmation of his world-class status as a Test performer, his role against Pakistan has been far less glamorous. In alarmingly similar fashion to Pietersen, he has sunk without trace on the current tour contributing even fewer runs than his team-mate; a total of just 41 runs from his five visits to the crease.
The fledgling member of England’s supposedly match-winning batting line-up, Eoin Morgan, is one of the only batsmen worthy of a little sympathy for his torrid time out in the middle this series given his lack of Test Match experience. However, his lack of runs has also been a worry given the faith shown to select him ahead of the talented (even if not entirely reliable) Ravi Bopara. Morgan has averaged more than 20 runs less-per-innings during the present tour when compared to his contributions against India on home turf.
The common theme for England’s batting line-up is clearly that they have failed to deliver anywhere near as strongly as they did at home to India in the summer, with the exception being Jonathan Trott who’s average has actually been an improvement. There are of course several reasons for such a rapid decline in form and I am not going to bother claiming that I am next in line to Graham Gooch on the batting guidance front, but the foremost explanations are two-fold.
First, the England batsmen are ‘ring-rusty’. This may sound a little pathetic when they are meant to be top-class performers but a few months out of Test action is a long time and although they may have needed it for the sake of their long-term sanity, it hasn’t exactly helped them in the short-term. Also, there appears to be some serious deficiencies in their approach to batting on Sub-Continental pitches, which have seen the batsmen resorting consistently to either negative and tentative reliance on the back-foot and, alternatively, if all else fails, they have been lured into loose shots designed in vein to relieve pressure.
So then, there is an enormous amount for England to work on in the coming weeks and months but in the short-term a second innings of composure and positivity would go some way to restoring the apparently fragile confidence of their batting contingent.