England's sequence of six successive series victories was brought to an end by a resurgent, united and at times brilliant Pakistan side. Two dramatic finalday collapses, one when in sight of winning the First Test and the other when apparently on the way to securing a comfortable draw in the Third, meant England lost two matches in a series in Pakistan for the first time.
Coming so soon after their historic Ashes triumph, the tour was a chastening experience for Michael Vaughan's party. Their batting lacked patience and application, the threat posed by their spin bowlers was minimal and their momentum was disrupted by important players missing matches because of injury or paternity leave. In the end, England were comprehensively outplayed. The champagne of the previous summer was replaced by nothing more intoxicating than a pot of the local green tea. It tasted bitter.
Pakistan, by contrast, improved steadily: their superiority was such by the Third Test that they won by the crushing margin of an innings and 100 runs. Most of the dominant characters were in their ranks. Inzamam-ul-Haq's lowest score in five innings was 53 and he was named Man of the Series. Mohammad Yousuf (formerly Yousuf Youhana, before his conversion from Christianity to Islam) made a double-century in the Third Test, Salman Butt and Kamran Akmal also reached three figures and Danish Kaneria initiated the two seriesdeciding England collapses with his wrist-spin.
But no image captured Pakistan's joy at winning more than the expressive face of Shoaib Akhtar. Eyes wild, hair flowing, sweat spraying, Shoaib reestablished himself as one of the true characters of world cricket. He bowled magnificently and with renewed commitment after his unhappy time with Worcestershire earlier in the year and a heavily criticised appearance for the World XI in Australia a few weeks before. Shoaib's bowling was a dazzling cocktail. He mixed 95mph deliveries with superbly disguised 65mph slower balls, not to mention yorkers, bouncers and even the occasional good-length ball. Shoaib took 17 wickets in the three Tests, and could have had more: no England batsman was able to relax against him.
England's continuity was disrupted almost from the start when two senior players - Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison - were given permission to turn up a week late after playing in the Super Series. Injuries caused further interruptions. Captain Vaughan wrenched his right knee during the second warm-up match, missed the First Test and was never wholly fit after that. He went home, primarily for the birth of his second child, but while he was there a specialist decided he needed surgery, and he missed the one-day series.
Despite a cortisone injection in his hip before the tour, Ashley Giles struggled for mobility throughout. He had taken 17 wickets when England won 1-0 in Pakistan five years earlier, but managed just three in two Tests this time before flying home early for an operation. The other senior spinner, Shaun Udal, made his debut four months short of his 37th birthday. But Udal, too, was largely ineffective, claiming just three wickets in three Tests. Kevin Pietersen, who aggravated a rib problem during the opening two oneday internationals, also failed to see out the tour.
Andrew Strauss missed the Third Test to attend the birth of his first child. He claimed he was not distracted by impending fatherhood, but scored only 44 runs in four Test innings. Many believed he would have been better advised not to come on tour at all. Marcus Trescothick also considered returning, after his father-in-law suffered serious head injuries falling off a ladder while repairing the roof at Trescothick's house, but finally decided to stay.
The portents were not encouraging for England in two warm-up games. Their first three innings of the tour started 60 for six, 38 for six, and 53 for seven. In the fourth, they were ten for two - and Vaughan had just damaged his knee. The problem was always the same: their inability to apply themselves in conditions requiring prudence and watchfulness. It is one thing to blaze away at five runs per over against Australia at Edgbaston; such tactics are less likely to work in Pakistan. The buzzword of the tour was patience, but the batsmen did not appear to be listening.
And so it was in the Tests. England lost their final nine wickets for 111 runs in the First Test at Multan - several to reckless shots when they were well placed to reach a target of 198. England never recovered from that defeat. Coach Duncan Fletcher admitted their spirits were deflated further when they lost another important toss in the Second Test at Faisalabad. Trescothick scored a momentous 193 in Multan but his runs tailed off - his secondinnings scores were five, nought and nought. Pietersen and Ian Bell made centuries in Faisalabad, but the meek surrender of wickets was a constant theme. Bell, who received his opportunity in the First Test only because of Vaughan's injury, made more progress than anybody and was England's leading scorer. Paul Collingwood, with scores of 96 and 80 in the Third Test defeat at Lahore, hinted his future might not be purely as a one-day specialist.
England's quick bowlers performed creditably, even though none had Shoaib's capacity to conjure important wickets. Flintoff took eight in the First Test and bowled with accuracy and power in the Second. But England kept flogging this thoroughbred, and he was looking weary come the Third. He had to be awake at 3 a.m. before the second one-day international, to receive the BBC Sports Personality of the Year trophy, the most prestigious of all the end-of-year sports awards, via a live link to London. England were also named Team of the Year. But they lost the game that followed, and the series 3-2, amid arguments about whether they should have been up at that hour.
Matthew Hoggard usually posed a threat when the ball was new and Harmison brought accuracy to his accepted qualities of pace and bounce. The three main quick bowlers - Harmison, Hoggard and Flintoff - all took more than ten wickets, no mean effort in three Test matches in the subcontinent. But the inability of the spinners to take wickets or even impose consistent control meant the faster men had a higher workload than England wanted. Simon Jones, who missed the tour with an ankle problem, was a big loss because his skiddy style and reverse swing might have been effective weapons. Among the younger quick bowlers, Liam Plunkett was promoted to the Test squad only as a replacement for Jones but he forced his way above James Anderson into the team for the Third Test and, at 20, became the youngest England player since Flintoff made his debut in 1998. Plunkett ran in hard and produced decent pace; greater finesse and variety should come with experience.
Geraint Jones's performances behind the stumps improved from the previous summer and he scored some useful runs without making a substantial score. He is bowled too often, however, suggesting a technical flaw.
While not descending into the siege mentality of some England tours of the 1990s, this was not a happy trip for a team that had enjoyed so much success in the previous couple of years. The disappointing results were one reason, of course, but the issue of security created a suffocating atmosphere in the minds of some players.
England had concerns over safety before the squad departed - no Test was scheduled for Karachi because of perceived anti-Western sentiment - and the ECB hired the services of a private security firm. The consequence was all-embracing protection from which the players could not escape. Clusters of armed guards were posted on the team's floor in hotels, and every excursion was accompanied by several police vehicles. Roads were often closed and traffic lights fixed on green so the team bus and retinue could rush to their destination. At nets, snipers could be spotted on nearby roofs. When Vaughan went for a jog around a park in Faisalabad to test his injured knee, he was accompanied by a phalanx of police and security men.
Although such precautions are not unusual for international cricket teams touring Pakistan, several members of the squad succumbed to the claustrophobic environment and made little or no attempt to fathom out where they were. They apparently preferred to play computer games in their bedrooms, saying there was "nothing to do". Only five chose to go on an organised trip to the fascinating Wagah Gate, where Pakistan meets India, just 30 minutes' drive from their hotel in Lahore.
Crowds were much better than for recent Test series in Pakistan, thanks to thousands of free tickets; the atmosphere was partisan but almost completely amiable. There was one brief scare during the Second Test, when an explosion delayed play for almost ten minutes. The bang was loud and deep in tone, and Trescothick, batting at the time, said he thought it was a bomb, although it soon became clear the blast was nothing more serious than an exploding gas canister in a fizzy-drinks machine. During the confusion, Pakistan all-rounder Shahid Afridi decided to perform a pirouette with his studded boots on a length, for which he was banned for the Third Test and two one-day internationals.
The England team did make friends in the first week of the tour when they were practising in Islamabad. Several players visited the children's ward at a local hospital to meet young victims of the earthquake which struck northern Pakistan in October. Vaughan and Trescothick were even taken by RAF Chinook helicopter to see the devastation for themselves.
But the concern and curiosity had turned to boredom and homesickness by the time England's descent on the final day of the Test series - they lost eight wickets for 43 runs in 12 overs after Bell and Collingwood batted through the preceding 59 with scarcely a flutter of concern - confirmed Pakistan's superiority. The series victory was a triumph for their coach, former England batsman Bob Woolmer. He brought harmony to the oftendivided Pakistan dressing-room, allied discipline to their natural talent, and extracted a stellar performance from Shoaib, who had told him that he wanted to write a new chapter in his career.
If Woolmer was the mastermind off the field, Inzamam controlled affairs on it, always at his own, unhurried tempo. Pakistan's captain never looked ruffled or rushed, whether he was batting against England's fastest bowlers or moving his fielders. Yet he exerted a pressure that England ultimately could not resist.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Patron's XI v England XI at Rawalpindi, Oct 31-Nov 2, 2005
Tour Match: Pakistan A v England XI at Lahore, Nov 6-8, 2005
Tour Match: Pakistan A v England XI at Lahore, Dec 7, 2005