Another tour of the sub-continent brought another series loss for England, as their traditional woes against spin bowling saw their middle order struggle, resulting in a 2-0 series win for Pakistan.
This was probably one of England’s toughest tours due to the lack of a world class spinner in their ranks. On their previous tour to Asia in 2012, England possessed the threat of Graeme Swann, backed up by Monty Panesar. This time around, the main spinner was Moeen Ali, who is little more than a part-timer learning the trade. Adil Rashid, who hadn’t featured for England in tests before and Samit Patel, who had only played five tests, made up the Three Lions’ spin attack. England’s inexperienced spinners proved to be the difference between the two sides as Yasir Shah, Zulfiqar Babar and even Shoaib Malik exploited England’s naivety, taking a hatful of wickets that, ultimately, won them the series.
However, a 2-0 scoreline looked a bit harsh on England taking into account how they played throughout the test series. The first test match was ultimately ruined by the road of a pitch which allowed Pakistan to post 523-8d, led by Shoaib Malik’s 245 on his return to the side and Asad Shafiq’s 107. England’s spinners, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, both bowled over 30 overs and went wicketless at more than four runs an over.
In response, Alistair Cook showed the world his class with an exceptional knock of 263, on the back of five sessions in the field. He batted for just short of 14 hours in a heroic effort for his side. Fifties from Bell, Root and Stokes supported Cook in his marathon innings as England overtook Pakistan and posted 598-9d early on day five.
Pakistan’s second innings brought the game to life as Adil Rashid arrived on the scene, grabbing 5-64 as Pakistan slipped from 113-3 to 173 all out, a lead of 98. England were left needing 99 off about 19 scheduled overs, which seemed relatively simple, but the fading light in Abu Dhabi meant that England had perhaps 11-12 overs to score their runs. In the end, only 11 overs were managed, leaving England stranded on 74-4, just 25 runs short of the target, and Pakistan escaped with a draw.
The promising display from England meant that they named an unchanged side for the second time, whilst Pakistan recalled Yasir Shah, who had been ruled out of the first test due to injury, at the expense of Rahat Ali.
Pakistan won another toss and batted first: top order and lower order struggles were cancelled out by a solid and consistent middle order. Fifties from Younis Khan and Asad Shafiq supported an excellent 102 from Misbah helped Pakistan reach 378 and put them ahead in the game.
Their bowlers certainly backed their batsmen up as England collapsed, courtesy of Yasir Shah and Wahab Riaz, from 206-3 to 242 all out. Only Cook and Root provided any resistance, but this collapse cost England the match as they were chasing the game from this moment onwards.
A knock of 118 from Younis led Pakistan to a second innings lead of 490 before they declared and left England with an unlikely chase of 491. The target was never going to be chased down, but some disciplined batting from Root and Bell gave England a fighting chance of salvaging a draw. Adil Rashid hit 61 and Mark Wood scored 29 as the pair batted for 30 overs to try and save the game, but Pakistan just managed to get the win. Rashid was the last man out with just six overs left to bat as England fell agonisingly close. The win for Pakistan means they remain unbeaten in a test series in the UAE.
The final test was played at Sharjah. England opted to play three spinners, a rare feature in today’s day and age, as they rested Mark Wood, which allowed Samit Patel an opportunity to show his worth. Jos Buttler was dropped following a treacherous summer and a lack of runs in the UAE with James Taylor getting the nod. Pakistan brought in Rahat Ali for Imran Khan and won another toss and batted first, aiming to go big, but England had other plans.
The persistent efforts of James Anderson and Stuart Broad led England’s assault as they bowled Pakistan out for 234 just before the close on day one. Anderson took four wickets whilst Broad took a pair.
England were in control and their batting on the second day proved it as James Taylor took advantage of his call up, reaching 74* at stumps on day two. Support from Cook, Bell and Bairstow ensured England’s hard work on day one remained intact.
However, the following morning, Pakistan’s spinners took control as seven wickets were taken between Malik and Yasir, leaving England all out for 306. England would come to regret their failure to go big in their first innings as they missed out on the chance to build of lead of 150+: instead they had to settle for a decent lead of 72. This change of momentum proved to turn the match as Mohammad Hafeez’s excellent 151 led Pakistan to recovery and set England a target of 284 to win the match and level the series.
England’s middle-order, however, capitulated once again at the hands of Pakistan’s spinners. Rahat Ali was the only seamer to take a wicket; the other nine were shared between Malik, Shah and Zulfiqar Babar. England only scored eight runs between numbers 3-7 and this cost them the match. Pakistan won the game by 127 runs and the series 2-0.
Was the 2-0 scoreline harsh? Some would argue yes, but the series was won and lost because Pakistan won key moments and held their nerve better than England. When they were behind in the game, their spinners recovered the situation, but England’s spinners lacked the quality to do so.
The main difference between the two sets of spinners is the pace at which Pakistan’s spinners bowl at. The quicker speed combined with their greater experience posed a very dangerous threat, for which England had no answer to. All three England spinners are still learning and finding their feet in the international game and it was clearly shown during this series. James Anderson and Stuart Broad were excellent throughout the series, but there is only so much that England’s opening duo can do out in the formidable heat.
Aside from the lack of world class spin, England’s middle order was consistently exploited as Bell, Stokes and Buttler struggled for runs: the place of Bell and Buttler in the side will definitely be an issue looking forward to the South Africa series. England simply cannot rely on Cook and Root to score the bulk of their runs, others have to contribute and it looks like James Taylor is up for the challenge – no doubt his performance in the final test will earn him a place in the starting XI for the boxing day test against the Proteas.
As England’s record in Asia fails to improve, their traditional issues against spin will forever be questioned come the next tour out there, but at the moment, it looks like England will have these problems for the foreseeable future, especially without a specialist spinner in their ranks.
The upcoming series against South Africa will be tough, of course, but England will be happier playing in conditions that are more suited to home, conditions in which their bowlers can flourish, much like they did in the summer.