“What have you done, Joe?”, pleaded Nasser Hussain on air, as Root skied a mindless swipe off Yasir Shah in the first innings. It was, in some ways, a throwback to Simon and Garfunkel looking for Joe DiMaggio all those years ago. Indeed, what had Joe done, as the post-Brexit nation turned its lonely eyes to him. It succinctly summed up all of England’s problems in this Test match. Their opponents had thrown away umpteen chances, dropping catch after simple catch, giving them enough opportunities to bounce back from some consistently horrible shot selection. Alas, a distinct lack of composure and, in some cases, respect, let them down throughout the course of this game. Leave aside Chris Woakes’ all-round excellence, and there was broad daylight between the two sides.
For all their progress over the past 12 months across formats, “New England” are yet to exorcise a couple of familiar, old demons completely, and at different points during this Test, they were put to some rigorous examination by Pakistan’s bowlers – reverse swing at pace, of the kind only Pakistan can produce, and world-class leg spin bowling. At times, it felt like they did not rate Yasir Shah, who might just be the best legspinning talent since Shane Warne and potential holder of the all-time record for the fastest to get to a 100 Test wickets. Moeen Ali fell twice, attempting a cross-batted swipe in the first innings, before coming down the track off just his second ball during the fourth innings run chase. There was a flotilla of such poor decisions throughout both their innings, from the whole of their middle-order, and the result is a flattering one, courtesy Pakistan’s ineptness in the field for the better part of the game.
At the end of Day 3, with a 281 run backlog, and Pakistan still having 2 wickets left, England were still bookies’ firm favorites, which is testament to how they have fared under Trevor Bayliss, aside from a pinch of predictable British optimism and faith in their side. “Hopefully they get it right this time”, said Jonathan Trott in the Sky studio. “Dream on, Trotty”, went Bob Willis, who knows a thing or two about unconventional swing troubling batsmen. Wasim Akram picked out Wahab Riaz’s reverse swing as his surprise package to watch out for. The pitiful commonality from England’s standpoint was, all of them turned out to be right.
Trott’s “hopefully” was a nod to the consistent thread binding England’s batting order, amid all this success. For a long while now, in every series, they have had a batsman or two in danger of losing his place in the side. Go back to Trott himself in the West Indies, trying to make a feeble comeback. Look no further than Cook’s opening partner conundrum. Remember Gary Ballance himself, going through a lean trot after a glut of hundreds. Do not forget Nick Compton’s sorry series of scores against a mostly innocuous Sri Lankan attack last month.
This time, though, it is hard to pinpoint who is in the most danger – is it Moeen Ali, in his confused batter-bowler state, losing his head, or is it a febrile Ballance looking desperately to rediscover his mojo at the highest level? Is James Vince even proven enough, what with his Second Division dominance for Hampshire? What of Jonny Bairstow, for whom cricket has no metric yet, to prove that his drop catches are costing England more than he can make up with the bat?
All of this might sound too doomsday-like too soon, but the middle order has not been as brittle for a while now, and the increased responsibility on Alastair Cook’s shoulders means Pakistan only need a couple of jaffas to get through this batting order. If Root’s twin harakiri told us half the story, Ali’s lack of respect, in some ways, exposed why England’s spin cupboard has been so bare for so long. As much as any gaping hole in their skill sets, it was their lack of composure in the first innings that was their eventual undoing. What changes will this defeat bring, as they head to Old Trafford, where they are unbeaten in their last 9 Tests? Their last defeat? A final session collapse to pace and leg spin against Pakistan, of course, all the way back in 2001.