Pakistan v England, 1st Test, Multan, 5th day November 16, 2005

England fail to heed warning

For once England could not find their hero to guide them to victory © Getty Images
And so the season has come full circle. A team of complacent intransigent worldbeaters, who mistook the writing on the wall for irrelevant graffiti, have been brought low by a team of young thrusters whose hunger in the closing stages of a gripping Test match was simply that little bit greater. England, the conquerors of Australia, have been beaten by Pakistan, the conquerors of themselves.

Perhaps that does a disservice to both sides, for England were admirable in inhospitable conditions for lengthy periods of this game, while Pakistan's bloodlust on the final morning was such that they would have frightened any side in the world, let alone one sated by a surfeit of such matches during the Ashes. But it is remarkable, nonetheless, how quickly England have grown to believe their own publicity. "Problem, what problem?" has been the message every day of this tour. Perhaps now they'll take notice of the smoke pouring under the door.

In the short-term, England face the significantly tricky prospect of extracting results at Faisalabad and Lahore, two venues where the prevailing conditions and the creeping shadows of midwinter are set to hamper their ambitions. But in their long-term interests, against India after Christmas and, moreover, in Australia this time next year, a setback such as this is probably not the worst fate that can befall them.

"I thought we would knock them off pretty comfortably," said Marcus Trescothick afterwards, as he inadvertently hit upon the very reason for the defeat. Trescothick himself had a magnificent match, leading from the front with the bat and marshalling his fielders with unexpected flair and imagination. He did not deserve such an indelible stain against his captaincy.

What Trescothick could not do, however, was control the destiny of the game on this final day. His late dismissal last night left him as the only player in the side with no further role to play, and as such, it was only right that he should have had faith in his team-mates. But, all throughout the Ashes, it was a case of one man stepping into the breach when another man failed. This time the cry went up: "Whose turn is it to be a hero today? Any takers?"

For a while, Geraint Jones looked as though he might come to the party, as Duncan Fletcher probably wouldn't be saying right now, while Ashley Giles and Shaun Udal made the most of their limited resources until they were scuppered by two of the very best balls of the match. But at the umpteenth time of asking in a truly extraordinary year, England looked to one another for the vital match-sealing role, and like a pair of hesitant defenders with their backs to the goal, they allowed Pakistan to swipe the ball from their feet.

Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen were two such potential heroes, but both fell in quick succession at a time when discretion was almost certainly the better part of valour. Trescothick, however, was unequivocal when asked about wisdom of the pair's attacking instincts. "It's the reason they've become the players they are," he countered. "Nine times out of ten it would have come off, and that's the reason we win games. If they see the ball they hit it hard."

So, the message remains unaltered from the England camp. One defeat does not a series debacle make, and at times of adversity such as this, they have an unrivalled team spirit and 18 months of happy memories to fall back on. "It's disappointing, but it's not going to knock us down," added Trescothick, and anyone who witnessed the fightback after Lord's last summer knows better than to question that particular judgment.

But all the same, it does no harm for England to be reminded of their mortality from time to time. They are a fabulous fighting force who have created more edge-of-the-seat classics in 12 months than most sides manage in a lifetime. The international game owes them a great debt. But, if they are serious about rivalling Australia and ruling the world roost for the next decade and more, then a touch less time with the touchstone, and a little more old-fashioned grind, would probably not go amiss.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo