Pakistan v England, 1st Test, Dubai, 3rd day January 19, 2012

England have no answer to spin, again

England showed, for all the bluster about their improvement against spin, that it remains their Achilles heel

So, were Pakistan wonderful or England wretched? The answer, as ever, is a bit of both. But, at the risk of incurring the wrath of a nation, there may be more truth in the latter than the former.

Let's be clear: Pakistan utterly outplayed England. They have, despite losing several top players to the spot-fixing debacle, quickly redeveloped a solid side that should prove highly competitive in any conditions.

They have a solid opening partnership - neither India or Australia ever neutralised England's seamers so effectively - a strong pace attack leader in Umar Gul, two wise old middle-order batsmen, a sparky keeper who produced a key innings in this game and a very good spin partnership. Most of all, they have a leader in Misbah-ul-Haq who pervades calm authority. Who inspires and unites. Who provides solidity and security. After years of superstar individuals, Pakistan have a team.

It would be a gross injustice if any of the gloss were to be taken off this result by mealy-mouthed slurs of Saeed Ajmal's action. It has been cleared by the ICC and drawn no complaints from other opposition. Indeed, none of the current England team have complained, either. England, surely, would do better to learn from Ajmal than moan about him.

But Ajmal will bowl better and take far fewer wickets. England, with all the pre-series talk of teesras and doosras ringing in their ears, looked paralysed with fear against him. They showed, for all the bluster about their improvement against spin, that it remains their Achilles heel. The ball hardly turned in this match but Ajmal, with his wonderfully subtle variations of pace and ability to move the ball just a little both ways, panicked the tourists like a dog running through sheep. Heaven help England when they are confronted by a track that turns square.

Some sense of perspective is required. England haven't lost a Test since December 2010 and, even during their ascent to the No. 1 Test ranking, there were moments - Perth, for example - when they imploded spectacularly. It is not wise to read too much into one result. As ever, the real test of a side is how they respond to adversity.

The alarm bells are ringing loud and clear, however. Since December 2001, England have played 22 Tests in Asia and won just five. Even that modest record flatters them, however. Four of those Tests - and four of those wins - came against Bangladesh. Remove them from the equation and England record is quite gruesome: just one win in 18 and eight losses. That is not No. 1 form, is it?

England's success has come on surfaces quite different from this and, in the next year, be it in the UAE, Sri Lanka or India, they will play on plenty of pitches that favour spinners far more. The track in Dubai hardly turned and they had first use of a blameless pitch.

Were they unfortunate? Not really. While it's true they lost three top-order wickets to what might be termed leg side strangles, each of those was lost to a poor shot. They would be deluding themselves if they hid behind such trifles.

Forget about the Monty Panesar debate, too. It was not England's bowling that let them down here. Quite the opposite, actually. It was their batting. Monty's inclusion would not have made not a jot of difference.

The real damage was inflicted - or self-inflicted - on the first day. England froze in the spotlight and handed Pakistan an initiative that was never returned.

Yet their batting in the second innings was no better. To lose two men - Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad - to catches on the boundary in these circumstances was remarkably irresponsible. Broad's shot, with his side seven wickets down and 11 runs behind, was breathtakingly poor. And Pietersen's was worse.

But what is more of a concern: men who throw their wickets away, or men who are rendered hapless in these conditions? For while the former should be easily mended, the second might not be. Ian Bell's complete bafflement against Ajmal's doosra in both innings should be of particular worry. Andy Flower has a great deal to ponder in the coming days.

Pakistan's only concern is that many of their key players are not young men. Ajmal and Younis Khan are 34, Misbah is 37, Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umar, Aizaz Cheema and Abdul Rehman are all the wrong side of 30.

But such concerns can wait. For now, Pakistan deserve all the praise coming their way and can look to the next couple of years with great confidence. It will now take a monumental effort by England to deny them in this series.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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