The wake-up call no one wanted - Flower
Andy Flower, condemned to his first Test series defeat since he took up the England coaching job on a permanent basis, has described their loss to Pakistan in the UAE as "the wake-up call no one wanted to get."
Flower laid the responsibility for the two heavy defeats in Dubai and Abu Dhabi squarely at the feet of England's batsmen and urged them to "face up to facts" and show "courage" in confronting their issues with high-quality spin bowling.
England's dramatic collapse in the second Test, when they were dismissed for 72 in pursuit of a target of 145, leaves them in danger of conceding their No. 1 Test ranking to South Africa if they do not win the final Test in Dubai. A 2-0 or 3-0 defeat, coupled with a 3-0 win for South Africa in New Zealand in March, would be enough for South Africa to take the top spot.
Their long-standing reputation as strugglers in Asian conditions has also been painfully confirmed. In 19 Tests in India, Pakistan, Sri lanka and now the Gulf since winning in Sri Lanka in 2001, England have lost nine, drawn nine and won one - and a sixth series defeat in seven is now inevitable.
"This is a great challenge for all of us," Flower said. "We've got another Test, a one-day series, a couple of Twenty20 games and then we've also got Test series in Sri Lanka and India before the year is out. So these issues will not disappear and we've got to face them with skill and a bit of courage. We've got to be a lot better than we were yesterday. Each individual will have to work very hard in working out his method of scoring.
"Yesterday was tough watching for anyone who loves England cricket. The guys played some really good cricket to get us into that position to chase a total of 145 to win a Test. It is exactly the sort of position you want to be in. But then we weren't good enough to deal with their spinners; we weren't skilful enough and we didn't deal with the pressure well enough. We have to face up to those facts.
Chasing a target of just 145, England's passive approach - Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook laboured for 15 overs in scoring 21 - allowed Pakistan's spin bowlers to build pressure on the batsmen and rendered them close to strokeless at times.
"They made familiar mistakes," Flower said. "We need our batsmen to learn. We didn't put any pressure on their bowlers in the second innings. We allowed them to bowl and create pressure. The conditions to play against quality spinners were difficult and we weren't good enough. We realise that we haven't been very skilful in dealing with that type of cricket.
As demands sounded for changes in the third Test, with the Essex batsman Ravi Bopara looking certain to be given an opportunity, Flower said that he would not be afraid to drop players if necessary.
"Continuity of selection has been part of our strength but very obviously we have to pick players who are most adept at dealing with these conditions," Flower said. "That is what we tried to do. We have lost the series now and of course we have to go into this third Test and pick what we think is the best XI to try and win the game. If that means making a change here and there, then we won't be afraid to do that."
Flower was keen to credit those England players who had enjoyed a good game and the excellent performance of the Pakistan team.
"Maybe we dropped a couple of catches in that first innings that were quite important, but other than that the bowlers and fielders were outstanding and Monty Panesar was great in his comeback game. Jonathan Trott and Alastair Cook were outstanding in that partnership of 139. Stuart Broad was outstanding; he played an aggressive, courageous knock to give us the lead - that was a match-turning performance from him both with ball and bat.
"It's also right to praise the Pakistan team for what they have done. They beat us fair and square. They have beaten us properly in two matches. They have fought hard and worked hard at their game and in a way I'm very happy for them. It's good for their cricket and it's good for their country."
With all the attention falling on an underperforming batting line-up, England have decided not to send for a replacement for the injured seam bowler, Chris Tremlett. Instead the England management have reasoned that the Lions players in contention will gain more benefit from match practice on their tour of Sri Lanka and that, with the likes of Steven Finn and Graham Onions already with the senior squad, England have most bases covered.
England have delayed the announcement of their squad for the limited-overs section of this tour until the end of the third Test. It remains unclear whether Tim Bresnan, who has returned to bowling in England, will have sufficiently recovered from his elbow surgery to warrant selection.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo