England v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Headingley, 5th day August 8, 2006

Painful and sadly predictable

Lurking nastily beneath all the hopes Pakistani fans must have harboured last night at the prospect of a spectacular heist lay the fear of a day like this

Pakistan can't just rely on their middle order to bail them out of trouble © Getty Images
Lurking nastily beneath all the hopes Pakistani fans must have harboured last night at the prospect of a spectacular heist lay the fear of a day like this. Callers to a TV show analysing the day's play with Javed Miandad instinctively predicted a famous win or a humiliating defeat. No one backed the draw and from at least the time Pakistan became a successful Test nation and particularly the 1990s, it has mostly been like this.

Someone some day will write a thesis on why such debilitating collapses happen to Pakistan (they might also include other sides from the subcontinent in any such study). Perhaps the thesis might conclude that the collapses represent the complete failure of the human spirit, as the celebrated war correspondent Robert Fisk, says of war? Dramatic certainly, but possibly some truth is hidden there.

Anyway, it is beyond most people - one bemused fan messaged just after Mohammad Yousuf was run out asking, 'Errr. Why?' The thesis won't come from here certainly. I was among the group of people who believed, nervously, that precisely this sort of surrender - comical, abject but wholly devoted - was perhaps a thing of the past. That an Old Trafford or Barbados was a blip, able to be eventually overcome and that Pakistan's infamous unpredictability had been partially shed.

Results such as Mohali, Multan and even the recent draw in Colombo over the last two years, we argued, was evidence that Pakistan have added some resilience to their more traditional flakiness. That the fighting draw has become a player in Pakistan results, behind 'Spectacular wins,' just nudging 'Humiliating defeats' out of the way.

As recently as the second day of this Test, I suggested Pakistan might come out of this with a draw. Sure there were problems, but they had shown a willingness to overcome most of them recently and backing them to do so here wasn't such a great risk. Many battle-hardened cricket aficionados remained suspicious, insistent that home results and fighting draws against equally unsettled opposition counted for little when a tough away series reared its head. This result is a victory for them. For the rest of us, it is a reality check.

The second-string attack weren't consistent enough to stop the England batting © Getty Images
On paper, the causes for their first series loss since January 2005 are clear and prosaic. Pakistan's batting consists essentially of three men; above them is a shambles on any ground and against any attack in the world and below them are men, we now see, who can cope at home. Only one man outside the middle three has scored a fifty in this series and wonderful as the trio of Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf and Inzamam-ul-Haq are, they are not unfortunately supermen.

Without exaggeration they are the poorest fielding side of all the Test nations and Zimbabwe; they dropped catches as if it was in fashion at Lord's, Old Trafford and Headingley. This side can't be singled out for it's been done generation after generation, era after era, team after team. Their bowling, though it was stand-in, had all the bite of a butterfly. Through the series, Pakistan have been a dim shadow of their recent selves. In fact, with a little tweaking, the infamous description that haunted England's ultimately victorious 1986-87 Ashes team can be applied to this touring side; can't bat, can't bowl, can't field.

Is it harsh, in light of Pakistan's injury-list? Not really. England have outplayed Pakistan in nearly every session of this series and conceivably could have been 3-0 up now. Further they have done it without their most influential player of the last year, one very influential captain and with only two members of their first-choice bowling attack. Pakistan may bemoan injuries, poor umpiring and dropped catches but they cannot deny the reality that they have been comprehensively outclassed.

One series loss shouldn't undo two years but the nature of the two defeats ensures that some very old and basic questions about Pakistan cricket remain. Are their batsmen equipped to cope with foreign environments and the pressures they exert? Will their fielding ever improve? Above all, does Pakistan exist in a realm of extremes only, capable one day of the sublime and the next day of the ridiculous?

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo