Talking points: England’s defeat to Pakistan
The England in the UAE Test series has come and gone, with Pakistan wrapping up a relatively comfortable two-nil series win and maintaining their unbeaten record in their adopted home.
Pakistan won the third Test at a relative canter on day five in Sharjah, adding to the game they won in Dubai, while the first Test in Abu Dhabi was drawn. Here are a few things to think of in the aftermath.
It's a no-go, Mo…
So… that experiment didn't work. As England's quest to find an opening partner for Alastair Cook continued, they turned to Moeen Ali, who doesn't generally bat in that position, and asked him to do well in tough conditions.
As much as everyone loves them some Mo, it was a tough ask and he didn't succeed. For someone who normally bats in the middle to lower order, his string of scores (35, 11, 1, 1, 14, 22) did not flatter.
So what now? Will they stick with him for the tour to South Africa in December, or chuck Alex Hales in at the deep end to make his debut against the best Test side in the world? You never know!
If we were selectors, which Twitter would have us believe we are, we'd give Hales a go against the Proteas, drop Mo back down the order, and… get rid of Ian Bell to keep James Taylor? But Moeen won't be dropped from the team, given his contributions with the ball.
Has it all gone Belly up?
Speaking of the Warwickshire man, Bell looked miserable in the heat, against Pakistan's fast bowlers, just… miserable. He scored just 158 runs in six innings, with one half century in the drawn Test. To be fair, he did score two 40s, but just did not look happy in the middle.
The chances of Bell being dropped are not high, it must be said. Given England's batsmen from numbers three to seven scored just eight runs between then in the second innings in Sharjah, he's part of the problem, not the sole problem.
He's scored just four half centuries in his past 12 Tests, but has probably done enough to stay, given Joe Root and Alastair Cook have been good enough to gloss over the rest of the order's failures.
Added to this, he's one of the last remaining players who went to South Africa in 2010 (Cook, Anderson and Broad are the others), so his experience there will be needed. He averaged 44 in that series, with a ton in Durban.
A brief appearance by mysterious Malik
What a tease! After five years out of the Test side, Shoaib Malik made a triumphant return to score his maiden Test double century, took more wickets than in the past, and promptly announced his retirement.
Malik, at 33, says he wants to focus on his family, and on making the ODI side for the World cup in four years' time. He also wants to give the young players a chance to get settled, as Shan Masood needed to be dropped just to keep Malik in the side in Sharjah.
It's a pity though. Malik was fun to watch with the ball, removing the likes of Cook more than once, and while he never came close to replicating his marathon Abu Dhabi knock (four of his next five innings were single figures) this series will be remembered.
Not to worry though. We'll see him in the shorter format matches later this month.
The Yasir Shah effect
Saeed Ajmal? Never heard of him. Pakistan's premier spinner now is Yasir Shah, who ended as the series' leading wicket taker, with 15 scalps, despite not playing in the first Test due to injury.
Mass panic erupted when he fell at training ahead of the first game, and was unable to play due to the back spasm that resulted. Whether the draw had much to do with that, who's to say?
But his return certainly had an impact, as England seemed incapable of playing him. Shane Warne had a training session with him and gushed like a blushing schoolgirl bout it afterwards, and rightly so, it seems.
Shah was awarded the man of the series for his efforts, taking two four-fers in Dubai and seven wickets in Sharjah. And they were top order wickets too, not a case of wrapping up the tail with an old ball.
Second in the rankings? Really…?
So Pakistan are now the second-ranked Test side in the world, according to the ICC's kalkulashuns. That seems… incredible. Are they better that Australia? Better than India? IDK…
But, when you consider that Pakistan have not lost a Test series in the UAE in all the time they've called the desert home, it makes a bit more sense. It also helps that everyone aside from South Africa are rubbish away from home.
Pakistan also won their two most recent Test series on the road, and while they were in Asia (Sri Lanka and Bangladesh), it worked in their favour with the points generators. Australia, who are on the same points, lost the Ashes in England, which didn't help them.
So as someone on Twitter quipped, Pakistan are the number one ranked team in the world of those that are not South Africa (who have not lost away from home in six years).
Other things to ponder:
Misbah. He's been asked, nay begged, to stay on as captain despite initially wanting to retire after this series. He says he has to think about it, and has a bit of time to do so until their next series.
Rashid. Was his debut series a success? Marginal. He had a nightmare start in his first innings, going for a record amount of runs without taking a wicket, but then took a five-fer in the next dig to save the game for England. The rest of the series? Meh.
Jimmy. What a guy! He bowled his heart out, and took 13 wickets at an average 15.61. Pity he wasn't backed up very well at the other end, with Stuart Broad taking a measly seven wickets in three games.
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