England aim to exorcise their demons
Posted in England v Pakistan (in UAE) 2012
A lot can change in six years. Back in 2005 England were not the world’s number one Test side, Lancashire were celebrating Division Two success rather than a first outright County Championship title for 77 years, and an away series against Pakistan involved travelling to Karachi and Lahore, rather than the United Arab Emirates.
But while times have changed, there are plenty of warnings for Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss in the events of England’s last tour of Pakistan.
While Michael Vaughan’s men were not the top-ranked Test side when they set off for Rawalpindi, they were newly-crowned Ashes winners and riding on a wave of euphoria that many thought would rapidly take them to the top of the Test tree.
A convincing series win on Pakistani soil would have done the trick, but instead they were largely outplayed, failed to win a Test, and lost the one-day series to boot.
Defeat to Inzamam-ul-Haq’s side proved to be more than just a bump in the road, for having been hot on Australia’s heels England needed almost six years - which featured a painful Ashes whitewash in 2006-07 - to officially become the best Test side in the world.
As was the case six years ago, England could end the upcoming tour of Pakistan without the tag of number one Test team - although only if they are heavily beaten and India claim an unlikely series victory in Australia.
There are plenty of positives for Strauss and Flower, however. Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher had built a side with the specific intention of ending 18 years of Ashes misery, and they succeeded. But of the 2005 heroes, only Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell remain Test regulars as age (Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard), injury (Vaughan and Simon Jones) and loss of form (Steve Harmison and Geraint Jones) decimated the side almost before the celebrations had concluded.
Strauss’ side are made of sterner stuff - while Vaughan had a fine first XI at his disposal, the call-up of 36-year-old Shaun Udal for all three Tests in Pakistan highlighted the lack of strength in depth. That is no longer a concern for England, whose 16-man party contains 15 proven players at Test level, with only reserve wicketkeeper Steven Davies - a man with 13 international caps in limited-overs cricket - yet to make his debut.
There is also no sense of mission accomplished for Strauss and Flower, who have the drive and desire to keep England top of the Test rankings for years to come.
Complacency almost certainly creeped into a side that had been so widely heralded in 2005, with an open-top bus parade and reception at 10 Downing Street.
In the first Test against Pakistan at Multan Flintoff ripped through the hosts, who were all out for 274, before Marcus Trescothick scored 193 in England’s 418 all out.
But Udal and Ashley Giles were ineffective in the second innings, and Danish Kaneria put England’s batsmen in a spin as they were skittled for 175 second time round and suffered a 22-run defeat from which they never recovered.
Strauss must heed the lessons of that tour and have England firing from the off at Dubai International Cricket Stadium. There will be no room for complacency against a Pakistan side who have been through more than their fair share of turmoil in the six years since last hosting England - to the extent that of the players involved in 2005 only Younus Khan is in the squad this time around.
Misbah-ul-Haq has plenty of talent at his disposal, as was shown by recent Test series victories over Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
The names and the places may have changed for Pakistan, but time has not diminished the threat they pose to England’s ambitions.