England pushed to the margins yet again
Two days remain of one of the most deflating England trips of modern times, and the prospects of England emerging with a pride-restoring victory in Wednesday's final match have to be rated as slim. Today was the opportunity for England to come good, to draw level in the series and carry their momentum forward to the final fixture. They didn't, and they now face the humiliating prospect of having to pre-qualify for next September's ICC Champions Trophy - quite the worst sort of preparation for a massive winter of Ashes and World Cup action.
Pakistan, on the other hand, just continue to go from strength to strength. This was one of their more ineffectual performances with the bat, and yet what their batsmen lacked in application today their bowlers more than compensated for. It is almost like watching England's efforts against Australia last summer - there is a certainty to Pakistan's performances at present. If one man fails, another will be waiting in the wings to cover his team-mates' backs.
One man who simply doesn't know how to fail, however, is Inzamam-ul-Haq. He has been immense from the moment the Test series began in his home town of Multan, where his twin fifties set Pakistan on their way to a remarkable victory. He has never yet managed a century in one-day internationals against England, but today's panic-free rearguard, an unbeaten 81 from 113 balls was worthy of the accolades usually reserved for three figures, especially when one considers the next-best score was Shahid Afridi's 34.
For just over half the match, England put up the sort of spirited and fighting performance that would have won most other encounters of this type. They were committed with the ball and in the field, with Vikram Solanki's superb run-out of Salman Butt a particular highlight, and while Kabir Ali and Ian Blackwell were adding 50 gritty runs for the ninth wicket, a re-run of last year's Champions Trophy final seemed to be on the cards.
On that occasion, the West Indian pairing of Ian Bradshaw and Courtney Browne thwarted England's surge for glory with a match-stealing stand of 71. But once Blackwell had run himself out for 29, there was only ever going to be one outcome - for all the maturity and calmness of James Anderson's limited strokeplay.
"I think we realised halfway through that we should have won the game," said Marcus Trescothick afterwards. "It did spin more than we probably expected it to, but we didn't get partnerships going and we didn't give ourselves a chance."
The man who extracted most of that spin was the Supersub, Arshad Khan, who conceded just 21 runs in his ten overs and made Geraint Jones look like a total novice in his tortuous 38-ball stay. Today it was Pakistan's turn to fluke best use of the absurd substitution regulations, as they won the toss and were able to utilise their spare man to the max. Ian Bell, by contrast, was jettisoned instantly to allow Anderson to take the new ball.
But all the cock-eyed regulations in the world cannot detract from the essential flaws in England's performances at present. Admittedly they are lacking the services of five front-line players, with Steve Harmison's bout of flu adding to the absentees today. But strength in depth is another hallmark of a great team. England have been scratched beneath the surface on this tour, and they haven't much enjoyed what's been revealed.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo