Alastair Cook has voiced concerns over the fragility of his batsmen and the absence of a world-class spinner following the 2-0 series defeat by Pakistan that saw England drop to No6 in the world Test rankings.
The captain looked on from the other end as his middle order was gutted by the spinners Yasir Shah and Zulfiqar Babar on the fifth day, losing four wickets in the first 30 minutes of play before crumbling to 156 all out to lose by 127 runs.
The eight runs scored between No3‑No7 in the batting lineup was the lowest collective return by an English middle order for 120 years, and 18 of their past 25 Test matches have featured a batting collapse.
While Pakistan have moved to No2 in the world, behind England’s next Test opponents, South Africa, the tourists now sit in the bottom half of the table for the first time since 2009. Until the batting improves, this will not change.
“To lose four for 11 wasn’t good enough and we keep doing it when the pressure is on,” said Cook. “For us to get better, go up the rankings and win away from home, we can’t allow that to happen.
“When we were No1 in the world [in 2011] we had a solid lineup but this side is in transition with new guys – very good players – coming in and finding their feet. We have to keep backing the guys but they have to keep working at their games and realise how tough international cricket is and how good you have to be to break through into a consistent player.
“I thought we played a bit more consistently here – even more so than the [Ashes] summer – but we just weren’t quite good enough when it mattered.”
With the ball, England’s glaring issue lies in the spinners. Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid were joined in this Test by Samit Patel but none gave Cook control, going at over four runs an over and sharing only 20 wickets – 15 fewer than Pakistan’s slow men.
“Out here you can see the damage their spinners did. We weren’t quite good enough in that department. It’s clear at the moment we haven’t got world-class spinners – that’s quite obvious,” said Cook. “We know there’s an issue developing spinners at the moment in England and I hope there’s a real opportunity for people to push themselves forward in the future. Moeen didn’t quite have the best tour with the ball here but he’s done well in the past.”
With England’s next Test coming against South Africa in Durban on Boxing Day, there was some good news with the apparent freedom with which Ben Stokes was able to bat following the collar bone injury suffered on the first day in Sharjah.
Stokes, who came out at No10 and was less restricted than in the first innings, scored 12 and will get a full prognosis on his recovery time in the next fortnight, with Cook needing his all-rounder to balance the team against the world’s best side.
“It is a really good sign [how Stokes batted]. We were really worried in that first 24 hours after he went off. I think it shows quite a lot about him,” the captain added. “We told him he shouldn’t bat because he could do some more damage but there were a few expletives, he put his pads on, had his shoulder strapped and he went out there and batted.
“We’ll have to work hard on him because he’s a key part of this side as one of those four seamers. If our seamers bowl anything like we did here, in South Africa we know we can do well.”
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