Just as one swallow does not make a summer, so too one heavy defeat does not make Test cricket’s world-leading side automatically a bad one, although judging by the reaction around the world, you could be forgiven for thinking that is the case.
There can be no argument that England were comprehensively outplayed and beaten by the better team during a chastening three days in Dubai and their poor form with the bat contributed to the ground witnessing its first positive result in three attempts.
Several factors have been cited for England’s poor performance including lack of preparation, inability to deal with Saeed Ajmal, a general malaise against spin and the wrong balance in the team.
For me, their defeat was a combination of these factors and some others. Pakistan were under-rated going into this series and although England certainly wouldn’t have underestimated them I thought that a lot of fans and onlookers probably did. In their two previous series in the UAE, they have beaten Sri Lanka and drawn with South Africa and under the captaincy of Misbah-ul-Haq have formed a tight and well-disciplined unit.
He cops some criticism for the speed of his batting and is by some held personally responsible for Pakistan’s failures against India in the 2007 ICC WT20 final and 2011 World Cup semi-final but under his watch, he has got Pakistan playing solid cricket and, more importantly, winning – exactly what Andrew Strauss has managed with England.
It is no surprise that the Pakistan squad appears to have been galvanised since the spot-fixing cases were heard and three former team-mates were imprisoned. Often in sport this sort of siege mentality brings out the best in competitors and they fight like cornered tigers to prove themselves.
Back to England, though. On their day, they should be more than a match for Pakistan, even taking into account the wiles of Saeed Ajmal and their poor record in Asia in the last ten years (no series wins against India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka). They failed to show enough of the form that has taken them to the top of the world rankings and were ruthlessly punished.
There is a fine balance between playing the right amount of warm-up matches and overdoing it. Ahead of the Ashes series last year, England got it right but critically, they were able to play against first-class teams which offered them serious challenges. In any other country, they might have been able to play more matches against resident first-class teams or an A-side. This being the UAE and not Pakistan, a PCB XI and a Combined Associates & Affiliates XI was about the best they could have hoped for.
The players had an extended break over the Christmas period and that wasn’t so much so that they could hit this series running but as much so that they would be fresh for what is a long season coming up, including Tests against the West Indies and South Africa as well as the defence of the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka and then a tour of India.
Judge England on where they are this time next year and you’ll have a better idea of whether they are true world number ones, because winning in Asia is the true test, not one Test match against a fired up Pakistan side in Dubai, although it has reinforced the point that if England want to stay at the top, they are going to have to work mighty hard to do so.