Alastair Cook has admitted that England lack the consistency to be rated the No.1 Test side.

England could, had they won at The Oval and seen other results around the world fall in their favour, have moved to the top of the Test rankings. Instead they suffered a 10-wicket defeat that leaves them fourth in the rankings and reflecting on something of a reality check.

Most of all, they were left to ponder the continuing fragility of their top-order batting that saw only two of the top five (predictably, Cook and Joe Root) average 30 and the unreliability of their close catching which, on average missed two chances an innings.

While England's middle-order, specifically Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow, often bailed the side out (both men averaged in excess of 50 in the series), none of Alex Hales, James Vince or Gary Ballance were convincing. Hales averaged 18.22 at the top of the order, while Vince has been given the entire Test summer in the side without registering a fifty; statistics that left Cook admitting "they haven't been good enough".

"At the beginning of this game the talk was 'you can become No.1; you could do all this, you could do all that'," Cook said. "But these four days probably show exactly where we are. We're a good side when we're on it, but there's a few areas we need to improve to make that next step.

"Consistently over the summer, we haven't scored enough runs at the top of the order. It is frustrating for us as a side. It's a big area we've got to keep working on - and obviously, for us to take that next step to consistency, top-order first-innings runs are vital.

"The lower order have got us out of trouble some of the time and it's great that we've got strength in depth down there. But the majority of the time they should be putting the icing on the cake, not making the cake.

"There is a hell of a lot of talent in the guys who are playing, but they just haven't got that score. I can't fault the lads' efforts. It's not for lack of that. It's just they haven't been good enough at this precise moment in time, and it's something we have to look at."

Cook also conceded that England had to "go back to basics" to improve their catching. They put down 15 chances over the course of the series - four more than Pakistan - rendering the job of their bowlers all the harder.

"With the catching this summer, we'll need to go back to basics and work incredibly hard again," Cook said. "We can't afford to drop as many catches as we have in this series if we want to bowl sides out on good wickets like this one here.

"There's 'could haves and should haves' - all that kind of stuff - but we've given them four chances in that first session on day two. We should take three out of those four, and that puts a different complexion on it. That is a frustrating feeling."

There were, Cook felt, some positives from the series. He credited the improved performances of Jonny Bairstow, who has every chance of establishing a new record for the most runs scored in a year by a Test wicketkeeper, and Moeen Ali, as well as celebrating the much-improved relationship between the two sides. Bairstow has now scored 992 Test runs (from 16 innings) in 2016, meaning only Andy Flower (who scored 1,045 runs from 16 innings in 2000) has managed more. England, however, have another six Tests scheduled before the end of the year.

"The relationship between the sides is a lot better than it's ever been," Cook said. "Both sides have made a conscious effort to talk about the cricket and let the cricket do the talking. We knew they were a good side and 2-2 is probably a fair reflection. The series was played hard, but it was played in good spirits.

"Moeen has done a fantastic job for us since he came into the side as a batter who bowled a bit. He's had to share a lot of responsibility to do that as part of a five-man attack.

"He's not a Yasir Shah as a spinner and he probably never will be. But he continues to work incredibly hard at it and he picks up vital wickets.

"Jonny Bairstow has had a great summer. I don't know if he has scored a thousand Test runs this year, but if not, he almost has. And, in these four games, he's kept really well as well. He's made a really good step forward, and he should be very proud of that.

"There's still a hell of a lot of work for him to do, but the way he's batted and contributed to the side, he can be very proud of a good summer."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo