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Match Analysis

Standout performers continue to carry England

A crushing victory over Pakistan gave England plenty to be pleased about but familiar concerns remain over the make-up of the side

Just as nobody wanted to ask Usain Bolt how much quicker he might have gone had he not slowed down before the line in the 2008 Olympics, so it seems churlish to pick holes in England's performance at Old Trafford.
England have, after all, just completed the fifth-largest victory - in terms of runs - in their Test history. Joe Root showed that he is continuing to develop as a batsman and has the skill and intelligence to adapt his game to the situation. Alastair Cook, whose decision not to enforce the follow-on was vindicated, continues to produce at the top of the order and Chris Woakes' emergence as an international-quality bowler provides the strength in depth that England have been searching for in the seam department.
This is a more than respectable Pakistan team and they were hammered. It is 1-1 with two to play and the Edgbaston pitch may well suit England better than any other in the series.
But the fact is that England came into the summer with questions to answer about several areas in their side. Notably, they were unclear over the identity of the most suitable partner for Cook at the top of the order, unclear about at least one of the middle-order positions, unsure about their keeper, their spinner and their first-change bowler.
So, five Tests later, how much progress have they made?
The answer is a little. But whether they are improving as a side or being dragged along by the improvement in their best young player is open to debate. It remains entirely possible that England will go to India later this year with a new opening batsman, a new first-choice spinner and a new face in the middle order.
To some extent, this is positive. If England can win against decent sides despite performing at something around 75% of potential, they clearly have the scope to develop into a fine side.
And there have been positives. Woakes seems to have come of age at this level and might, before the year is out, give the selectors some interesting decisions to make if they decided to go into Tests in Asia with fewer seamers. While he does not quite ease the pain of losing Ben Stokes for Edgbaston, he does reduce it. The last time England had two such fine allrounders was arguably in the brief period in the late 1970s in which Ian Botham and Tony Grieg played together.
In this match, too, Jonny Bairstow produced an admirable performance with the gloves. There were only two catches, but there were no drops, few fumbles and only two byes in total. He still has questions to answer, but this was a step in the right direction.
Most of all, there was the performance of Root. If, in the first innings, he demonstrated the discipline and restraint required to succeed at No. 3, in the second he demonstrated the strokeplay and selflessness to prove he can adapt as his side requires. Afterwards Cook referred to his double-century as "a great innings" and one of the best he had ever seen while Misbah-ul-Haq described it as "amazing". It was hard to disagree. Root really does look as if he is developing into a special player.
So it is probably inevitable that England should rely upon him and Cook. Just as Sri Lanka once relied upon Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, Australia relied upon Allan Border and South Africa now rely on Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers. To some extent, that is the inevitable burden of excellence.
In the end, that was the difference between this Test and the first. While at Lord's, Root top-edged an overly aggressive slog-sweep, here he made sure he took advantage and, as Cook put it, "ground Pakistan down". England took advantage of winning the toss, they weren't in a rush with the bat or their tactics and they still won with more than a day to spare. There is a lesson there.
The concern - or perhaps it is just a gripe - is that Root and Cook's success is masking some pretty modest returns from the rest of the top order. Root's move to No. 3 has opened a hole at No. 4, with Alex Hales, Gary Ballance and James Vince all struggling to supply contributions so far this series.
It is Vince's form that is most concerning. He is not just falling for low scores - he is averaging 18.57 after seven Test innings - but failing in predictable ways. His first-innings failure here, edging a drive at a ball angled across him, came in spite of a life earlier in the innings attempting the same stroke. The failure to learn does not bode well.
If Vince is dropped - and Stokes' injury may save him - it does not mean the end for him. Many players have found their first taste of international cricket tough but have returned to county cricket with more knowledge of the standards required to succeed at this level. He has the talent to come again.
Ballance has only had three innings in this series - one of them quite impressive - so probably deserves a longer run to prove himself, while Hales surely did enough in the Sri Lanka games to earn a place for the rest of this series. He is not at the stage, though, where he can be said to have secured the opening position and is clearly struggling against the swing of Mohammad Amir. How he overcomes that very specific challenge in the next two Tests may define his career in this format.
Moeen Ali's form is a worry, too. While he has the third-best strike rate of any English spinner (with more than five Test wickets) since the war, he also has the worst average of any England bowler with more than 20 Test wickets this century.
He took five wickets at Old Trafford - a reflection of Pakistan's policy of trying to destroy him as much as any particularly wonderful bowling - but seems to have developed a worrying habit of delivering a head-high full toss an innings, which betrays a man struggling for form and confidence. England deserve credit for sticking with him - Cook has developed as a captain in that regard - but Adil Rashid continues to push hard for inclusion. It could well be that both men play on an Edgbaston track that tends to turn as the game progresses.
The truth is, England rather got away with their errors in Manchester. They got away with Cook's missed slip chance on the fourth day - had Younis Khan been at a different stage of his career, he may have punished them - and they got away with a top order that offered contributions from two players. So dominant were England's seamers and two of their top three that it made little difference that Hales, Ballance and Vince struggled.
"There's still work to do," Cook said. "There's still inexperience in that batting line-up. Three of the top five are pretty inexperienced. We still have a couple of years to go as a side."
But that presupposes that experience will improve players. It might, of course. But it might also show they are not quite up to the standard required. It remains a bit early to draw conclusions about a couple of this top order. As a result, it is a bit early to gauge how much improvement England have made.
Selection for the next Test will be intriguing. As well as trying to find a replacement for Stokes - there is surely no way he will be fit for next Wednesday - England must also reflect on Vince's form and decide if Moeen did enough here. Had Stokes not been injured, there was a chance that England could have picked Rashid in place of Vince for Edgbaston. But now they must decide if they also want a replacement seamer and how much batting is required. For a side who have just achieved a huge win, they have quite a lot of thinking to do.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo