Pakistan v England 2011-12 February 1, 2012

The peril of premature laurel-resting

Is that recrimination is lurking close by, waiting to nip your backside

Sunday, 29th January “And so the Andy who was called Strauss led his disciples into the desert. For three days and three nights they wandered but on the fourth day they rested on the back foot and were caught unawares. There was then much wailing and gnashing of teeth and they returned unto their hotel whereupon they did beat their X-Boxes mercilessly.”

The Greeks didn’t give us the whole picture. Nemesis comes after hubris all right, but they missed out stage three: recrimination, which is the worst bit. Sky’s usual suspects looked like appalled teachers confronted with the evidence that last term’s top student had just been caught smoking in the sixth form toilets. Bob was loftily contemptuous, Botham was steaming and Nasser was definitely not amused.

But are they being fair? England are a good team, they just aren’t as good as all that. There’s no disgrace in losing to Pakistan, who played very well. What’s the problem?

The problem is that England’s media cheerleaders have spent the last six months indulging their fevered patriotic imaginations and now that Strauss and chums have slipped up, the pundits are left feeling more than a little cheesy.

Things were already getting silly a year ago, after England beat one of the worst Australian teams ever to don saggy cloth caps. Then they beat India and silliness readings went off the scale. One writer even got away with listing England’s 2011 vintage as one of the best five Test sides of all time without being immediately arrested and detained in a suitable medical facility for his own safety.

We’ve seen it all before. In fact, this English habit of premature laurel-resting was first noted at the Battle of Hastings when five minutes after the start of play, King Harold, observing that the Normans were struggling to break the English shield wall, declared that the battle was over, his army was clearly the best since the Romans and sat down for an impromptu muffin and mead break.

So now that events have demonstrated that England are somewhat less than invincible, the wronged experts must have someone to blame. I’m no psychic, but I suspect attention will first turn to the least English of the Abu Dhabi failures. Mr Trott’s gastro-intestinal tribulations may earn him a sympathetic reprieve and so scapegoat duties will have to be assigned to either Mr Morgan or Mr Pietersen.

But the blame apportioners are missing the point. Test cricket is more interesting when there is an unresolved scrap for No. 1, and right now there are at least four teams involved in the squabble to be top Test dog. Pakistan are one of them and not just because they have a pair of proper spinners. Misbah’s Pakistan is Patient Pakistan and that is the most dangerous kind of Pakistan you can get.

It was Ajmal and Rehman who dismantled England’s house with their spinning wrecking ball, but the hard work was done on day three by Azhar and Asad, who batted like Geoff Boycott’s older, more circumspect cousins, blunted the tourist’s momentum as though their bats were saucepans and Broad and co were onrushing cartoon cats in pursuit of a runaway mouse, and so set up the final day’s spectacle.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England