England v Pakistan, 4th npower Test, Lord's August 25, 2010

Pressure on England to arrest collapse of confidence


Whether last week's result at The Oval was attributable to poor batting from England or outstanding bowling from Pakistan - and the truth invariably lies somewhere in between - it is a fact nonetheless that England's dominance in this series, taken somewhat for granted as they coasted to a 2-0 lead with a nine-wicket win in the second Test at Edgbaston, is nowhere near as absolute as it might have once appeared. In fact, as the series finale looms at an overcast (and therefore swing-friendly) Lord's, it might even be described as precarious.

Thanks to an ever-diminishing series of team totals, which have drifted downwards from a decent 354 in the first Test at Trent Bridge to an insubstantial 222 at The Oval, the focus has fallen on England's batsmen to a degree not seen since they crashed to 102 all out at Headingley in the penultimate Test against Australia last summer. Then, of course, they battled back from a series-squaring innings defeat to claim the Ashes one match later with a hefty victory at The Oval, and all was forgiven. The challenge now, in England's final Test before the squad to tour Down Under is finalised, is to re-harness those powers of bouncebackability.

"It certainly wasn't the worst game we've had since I took charge," said England's captain, Andrew Strauss. "We've had some poor performances in the past, but we lost the game and that was disappointing because we should have been better than that. There are lessons to be learnt from The Oval and there's a pretty strong determination within the group to prove that that was a one-off and that we're better than we showed [in that match]. That's a pretty good state of mind to have, because generally, when we've had that state of mind, we've done well."

England, to be fair, have long had a pretty healthy record in that regard. It wasn't until the penultimate year of Michael Vaughan's reign, against India in 2007, that he relinquished his record of following every Test defeat with a victory at the next attempt, and while Andrew Strauss hasn't quite attained those standards, he's nevertheless started pretty healthily with a draw and two victories following his three previous defeats as England captain.

However, given that England bowled Pakistan out for 80 and 72 in the first two Tests at Trent Bridge and Edgbaston, last week's defeat has to rate as the most unexpected yet of Strauss's captaincy career - even ahead of the infamous 51 all out in Sabina Park 18 months ago, for the speed of that second-innings capitulation was at least in keeping with the pervading mood of crisis that had gripped the England squad since the falling-out between Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores. The Oval reversal, on the other hand, has awakened issues that had been allowed to pass unnoticed during a misleadingly comfortable run of six Test wins in a row - and need to be addressed rather urgently.

"We haven't batted brilliantly, but it's hard to score 500 on a pitch that's doing a lot," said Strauss. "There was less excuse at The Oval because that was a pretty good batting wicket, but when you as a side are scoring 200 on a pitch where the opposition are being bowled out for 80, you've done a reasonably good job. It would be wrong to bury our heads in the sand and say everything is fine, but I'm very satisfied with the batting group generally. The key is to make sure that if you do lose a wicket, the next guy that comes in establishes himself at the crease and doesn't allow the opposition to build some strong momentum."

For Strauss himself, there's an extra pressure looming in this match, partly as a result of Alastair Cook's success in quelling the calls for his head by reaching a personally invaluable century in that Oval defeat, and partly as a consequence of Strauss's own struggle for form this summer. As was the case against India in 2007, when he was dropped from the team following a prolonged slump, he's been dismissed by a left-arm seamer in five innings out of six - with Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz filling the roles of Zaheer Khan and RP Singh respectively. And while Kevin Pietersen has attracted attention for his run of 25 innings without a century, Strauss is also in need of a significant score - since making 161 against Australia on this ground in July 2009, he's gone 22 innings without reaching three figures.

"It's one of those things," said Strauss. "If you start looking for too many reasons for things, then you're not concentrating on what you need to do, which is to go out and play. I'm reasonably happy with how my batting is going, because I've made some useful contributions but not got to three figures. A lot of the pressure that comes on a batsman comes from outside the group, but Lord's is a wicket I generally play well on, and I'm confident things will go my way."

If ever there was a venue designed to quell the jitters of England's malfunctioning top-order, it is Lord's, where a place on the famous dressing-room honours board manages - for the batsmen at least - to be both a thrilling accolade and somewhat passé. Both Strauss and Pietersen have made four centuries at the ground, with Pietersen's 152 against South Africa in 2008 leading to his memorable declaration that he had "never felt so loved", and of the current top seven, only Eoin Morgan has yet to make his mark. Admittedly, he's only played at the ground on one occasion, against Bangladesh earlier this summer, but that was also Jonathan Trott's Lord's debut, and he marked the occasion with a career-best 226.

For Pakistan, however, the allure of playing at Lord's will be heightened by the memories and lessons learned during their defeat against Australia earlier in the summer. Although the eventual 150-run margin looks emphatic on paper, the reality was of another nip-and-tuck contest in which ball dominated bat until the latter stages of Australia's second innings, when the sun shone sufficiently to allow the last two wickets to add a vital 126 runs. Pakistan's captain, Salman Butt, who made 63 and 92 in the match, believes his team will be stronger for the experience.

"Now we know the slopes and from where the wind comes," he said. "Not more than the English team, but still I think if we can play to our potential, we can beat them and level the series, and that would be the most wonderful thing. To come from 2-0 down to level the series would help and boost their confidence for the rest of their futures, and in difficult times in the future they will have something very good to remember - even when they are older and telling young people what can happen."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 26, 2010, 14:24 GMT

    @Zahidsaltin In cricket there is only 3 departments they are as follows 1 BOWLING 2 BATTING 3 FIELDING So If a team Which is not useful in atleast two departments will fail badly....

  • Subba on August 26, 2010, 14:21 GMT

    Writers will have to now recognise and appreciate that it is the Pakistani bowlers and their outstanding abilities which have made both the England and Australian batsmen look quite ordinary and out of sorts. There is no other explanation and let them not put too much pressure on the batsmen (both England & Australia)to treat it as a form slump. Not at all. It is a matter of skills, make no mistake.

  • Mo on August 26, 2010, 11:40 GMT

    Now it is raining, it will be an intresting as well as challenging game for the batting.

  • Dummy4 on August 26, 2010, 11:15 GMT

    due to rain, now lords would become a bowling paradise instead of batting paradise, and as you all know, England will be thrashed by Pakistani bowlers..my money on 2-2 series level..

  • Dummy4 on August 26, 2010, 8:45 GMT

    i am sorry to say that writer is not ready to acknowledge the potential of pakistani team and specially bowlers. he is stressing only english playerto acheieve every thing in bowling and batting which is possible only if hands of pakistani team are tied. it is the bowling favourable condition in england which have helped local team, if this team comes to pakistan, its true potential will be revealed.

  • Peter on August 26, 2010, 8:37 GMT

    I was lucky enough to be at The Oval for the first two days of the test last week and over those two days the main difference between the sides were the bowling of Riaz and the batting of Azhar Ali who played superbly and was unfortunate not to make the century he deserved.

    Test matches are generally won on lots of small margins added together, in the first two tests Pakistan were let down by their fielding and in the third test the England fielding was actually not great, Morgan dropped a sitter early on that cost 15 runs and Strauss also dropped Asif at slip and allowed the final wicket to add 38 in the Pakistan first innings by setting negative fields.

    Given the wobble Pakistan had in their second innings those 55 runs would have made a huge difference if (and it is just an IF) the chances were held, the same goes in the first two tests if Pakistan had held some of their chances this series might have had a different outcome.

    As it is the test match today is set up nicely!!

  • Mudassar on August 26, 2010, 7:53 GMT

    alas! England didn't have services of Darell Hair at Oval this time who won them an "UNEXPECTED" match back in 2006. dont worry Struassy you guys have one more game to play, so try every "MEAN (as said by Broad)" way to win against an inexperienced yet enthusiastic team of pakistan.

  • Asim on August 26, 2010, 7:41 GMT

    let them come first in Lords and then Aussies Will Show them right path where to go now? Defenetly after Lords there would be very thoughtful situation for Andy Flwr.....

  • Dummy4 on August 26, 2010, 6:55 GMT

    I agree with what most people... Ashes will be a battle between mediocre bowling & fragile batting line ups & both of them "THINKING" they are the best teams in the world. It will be more a battle between English & Aussie press than anything else...

    Pakistan has shown both teams the reality of their much hyped teams... Pakistan with a level headed captain & good catching can become a mighty side, not because they are a great side but because most of the other "top" ranked teams are mediocre sides

  • vishal on August 26, 2010, 2:52 GMT

    wow every article just comes back to pakistan's batting....wouldnt it be funny if they end up with 600 and win by an inning...?

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