Tour review

Pakistan v England, 2015-16

John Etheridge


Misbah-ul-Haq poses with his Pakistan team and the series trophy after beating England 2-0, Pakistan v England, 3rd Test, Sharjah, 5th day, November 5, 2015
Misbah-ul-Haq poses with his Pakistan team and the series trophy after beating England 2-0 in the Test series © Getty Images
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Test matches (3): Pakistan 2, England 0
One-day internationals (4): Pakistan 1, England 3
Twenty20 internationals (3): Pakistan0, England 3

Defeat in the Tests was followed by limited-overs dominance, making England's second visit to the United Arab Emirates to play Pakistan truly atour of two halves. Familiar issues with spin - bowling it and batting against it- characterised their 2-0 Test loss, before a new-found confidence in the shorter formats illuminated six wins out of seven, the last of them, a Twenty20 game in Sharjah, courtesy of their first super over.The Test scoreline probably flattered Pakistan.

England were competitive - certainly more so than during their 3-0 defeat in the UAE in early 2012 - and each of the three matches went deep into a fifth day. The often attritional nature of the cricket contrasted starkly with England's high-octane Ashes victory three months previously. Indeed, Alastair Cook's monumental 263 in the FirstTest in Abu Dhabi lasted 836 minutes, longer than the entire Trent Bridge Test against Australia.

England would have won the Abu Dhabi game had the light allowed another few overs; they were 39 balls from saving the Second Test in Dubai after an astonishing rearguard; and they gained a first-innings lead of 72 in Sharjah. The truth, however, was that once leg-spinner Yasir Shah - the most dangerous bowler on either side - was fit (he had missed the First Test after injuring his back the day before the game) Pakistan were much the stronger. By the end,they were still to lose a Test series in the UAE since it became their home in 2010-11.

England, meanwhile, had won only one away Test in 15 since winning in Kolkata three winters earlier. Yasir bowled with a pace and potency that England's spinners could not equal. The failure of Adil Rashid in particular, and to a lesser extent Moeen Ali and Samit Patel, to trouble the Pakistan batsmen caused much hand-wringing about the lack of slow bowlers in English cricket. Within weeks the ECB had decided to allow the away team in County Championship matches the choice of bowling first, without the need for a toss, mainly in the hope that groundsmen wouldn't simply produce green tops to favour the home seamers.

Rashid started the series with 34-0-163-0, the worst innings analysis by any Test debutant. He did take five wickets in the second innings, but his series haul was eight at nearly 70, while conceding 4.06 an over. He was struck for 12 sixes, of which Misbah-ul-Haq hit eight; Ali also went for more than four an over. The Pakistan batsmen's plan, with Misbah its most ruthless exponent,was clear: block the seamers, attack the spinners. In fact, they had only to wait for the bad ball, which usually arrived at least once an over. And, with Rashidoperating at below 50mph, the batsmen had time to punish it properly.

Not even a visit from Shane Warne helped much. He spent 90 minutes offering Rashid advice on the eve of the Third Test, encouraging him to straighten his run-up and drive through his action, and discussed field-settings with Cook, an indication that their relationship -strained by Warne's criticism on TV - was now more cordial. He also had a session with Yasir and, though he praised Rashid, it was clear Warne believed Yasir the superior bowler. A total of 15 wickets in two Tests - taking him to 76 in his first 12 - made it easy to see why.

When Yasir failed a drugs test in December, it felt like a blow to the world game.It was left to James Anderson to offer an end-of-series warning to Rashid and the other spinners: "They will take a lot from this tour, but you have to learn fast in international cricket. If you don't,then you don't stick around." The task of containment fell instead to England's seamers. Anderson took 13 wickets at 15, and conceded a miserly 1.87 runs an over. On dry, unhelpful pitches, and with little conventional swing, he produced a string of masterclasses, featuring a mixture of reverse swing, slower balls, cutters,bouncers and even spinners, dismissing Misbah in the Second Test with a genuine off-break.

Opener Shan Masood found Anderson especially unplay-able, falling to him four times in 17 balls before being dropped for Sharjah. Stuart Broad took only seven wickets, but was hardly less economical, costing just above two an over; neither had enjoyed a thriftier Test series. When Pakistan were bowled out for 234 in the first innings at Sharjah, their combined figures read 28.1-15-30-6.England's cause was not helped by Cook losing all three tosses, though he did his best to make up for it by scoring 450 runs, taking his tally in 2015 to 1,357, already his most prolific year. His 263 was the third-longest Test innings of all time, and his 33rd century in all international formats, taking him past Kevin Pietersen's England record; he also completed a Test hundred in all nine countries in which he has played (ten if you separate England and Wales).

Even Cook, a famous non-sweater, had some beads on his forehead when he removed his helmet. But not losing as much fluid as other players allowed him to bat for more than two days in the ferocious heat without cramping. When England arrived at the end of September, the temperature was around 45 ̊C: the players used ice towels and drank rehydration fluids to replace salt and minerals. As late summer in the Gulf moved towards autumn, the temperature dropped around two degrees a week. But, whatever the reading,head coach Trevor Bayliss - or Trevor Bliss, as one local paper had it - wore long sleeves, tracksuit trousers and a floppy hat; an Australian, he knew about the dangers of the sun.

Bayliss's understated manner and economy of words surprised some players: he preferred to observe and offer the occasional nugget. And he would have noted during the Tests that England were in effect a four-man team - Anderson, Broad, Cook and Joe Root, who passed 70 three times but did not record a century.Ian Bell endured a difficult tour, showing little of the authority one might expect from a player of his experience. When he batted with James Taylor in Sharjah, it was the busy, confident Taylor who looked like the veteran of 118 Tests, and the apprehensive Bell the three-match novice. His final innings,when he missed a straight ball delivered from round the wicket by Shoaib Malik, brought him a duck - his ninth Test dismissal for either nought or one in 2015, the most in a year by any specialist batsman. He had also spilled two costly slip catches on the opening day of the series. Bell was subsequently omitted from the tour of South Africa, having managed just 428 runs in his previous 23 Test innings.

Jos Buttler lost his place for the Third Test after scoring only 156 in seven matches stretching back to the start of the Ashes. He had struggled to find a method and tempo in five-day cricket, despite being urged to play his natural game; slogs and switch hits, however, are not necessarily recommended when trying to stave off defeat. But he found few such problems in one-day cricket,and finished the 50-over series with an astonishing 46-ball century, easily beating his own record as the fastest for England.

And, with the selectors looking to cover all bases ahead of the World Twenty20, he also captained them for the first time, in the second T20 game.In order to allow an extra bowler, Ali had become Cook's seventh opening partner since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012 and, in Abu Dhabi, the first England player to open in the first innings of a Test without having previously done the job in first-class cricket. No one was terribly surprised when his technique appeared too loose to face the new ball, and England forfeited his dynamic contributions at No. 8 during the Ashes. Opening the batting may also have affected his bowling.Ben Stokes showed signs of learning the virtue of patience with the ball,and scored a half-century in the First Test, though little else.

In the Third, he hurt his right collarbone as he attempted a spectacular catch, and went home with his arm in a sling (though he would have been rested from the limited-overs matches anyway). His was not the only injury. Steven Finn had bowled well in one of the practice matches in Sharjah, but missed the rest of the tour when he was diagnosed with a bone stress injury in his left foot. Mark Wood,after some encouraging performances in the first two Tests, missed the Third and returned home for surgery on his left ankle.Pakistan's batting was far more consistent.

Five players scored centuries and, in Dubai, Misbah became the oldest since Bob Simpson in 1977-78 to do so in a Test, at the age of 41 years 147 days. His calm character was one of the reasons for the absence of the sort of ball-tampering, match-fixing and illegal-action stories that have marred previous Test series between Pakistan and England. When Root complained that Wahab Riaz, who bowled some ferocious spells in the desert sun, had deliberately trodden on the ball in Dubai, it was about as fractious as things got.

There were mutterings about the third one-day international, in Sharjah,where Pakistan's batsmen perished to a series of run-outs and brainless strokes,but anti-corruption officials were satisfied that in-play betting patterns, in both regulated and unregulated markets, provided no cause for alarm. Even so,some of the cricket was curious. In two of the Twenty20 games, two Pakistanis found themselves at the same end, and on each occasion the third umpire had to decide not if a batsman was out, but which. Mohammad Hafeez was involved in five run-outs during the tour though, without his high-class 151 in Sharjah,England might have squared the Test series. Shoaib scored 245 in Abu Dhabi,then announced his retirement from Test cricket mid-game at Sharjah.

Younis Khan was persuaded to continue in one-day cricket but, bizarrely, then announced that the first game would be his last.The lack of Hot Spot and Snicko - the host broadcaster, Ten Sports, would not fork out the necessary £125,000 - meant some decisions were a lottery,which might have caused friction under less phlegmatic captains than Cook and Misbah. England were frustrated at being denied victory by bad light in the First Test, though Cook took the decision in his stride. He understood that the light-meter readings had been set earlier in the match, and queried only gently whether the players were actually in danger.

England grew in confidence with the white ball, and won the final six matches of the tour, which would have pleased Strauss, the team's new supremo, who wanted to give one-day cricket equal footing with Tests. He had hired the former Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene as a batting consultant in the early weeks of the Test tour, and Paul Collingwood to work with the one-day team.Alex Hales and Jason Roy made their first one-day international centuries,and James Vince was top scorer in the T20 series. England were rarely at their best, but kept winning, which was a good sign for an emerging team. Captain Eoin Morgan said there were only two perfect performances - Buttler's marauding century, and Chris Jordan's six balls in the final match's super over,when he nailed his yorkers so successfully that he conceded only three runs. It summed up a tour on which England's white-ball evolution was in danger of leaving their Test cricket in the shade.

Match reports for

Tour Match: England XI v Pakistan A at Sharjah, Oct 5-6, 2015
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Tour Match: England XI v Pakistan A at Sharjah, Oct 8-9, 2015
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1st Test: England v Pakistan at Abu Dhabi, Oct 13-17, 2015
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2nd Test: England v Pakistan at Dubai (DSC), Oct 22-26, 2015
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3rd Test: England v Pakistan at Sharjah, Nov 1-5, 2015
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Tour Match: England XI v Hong Kong at Tolerance Oval, Nov 8, 2015
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1st ODI: England v Pakistan at Abu Dhabi, Nov 11, 2015
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2nd ODI: England v Pakistan at Abu Dhabi, Nov 13, 2015
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3rd ODI: England v Pakistan at Sharjah, Nov 17, 2015
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4th ODI: England v Pakistan at Dubai (DSC), Nov 20, 2015
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Tour Match: United Arab Emirates v England XI at Abu Dhabi, Nov 23, 2015
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1st T20I: England v Pakistan at Dubai (DSC), Nov 26, 2015
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2nd T20I: England v Pakistan at Dubai (DSC), Nov 27, 2015
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3rd T20I: England v Pakistan at Sharjah, Nov 30, 2015
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