Another away Test, another defeat. You do this following England malarkey out of hope, rather than expectation you know. Bracing myself for a leg-locked eight hours aboard the Airbus, I begin dib-dabbing away on my iPad. Glancing around the two-thirds full cabin I see curled up tracksuit-bottomed, replica-topped Aussie and Kiwi rugby fans halfway through their big journey to London and this weekend’s big game. I know through experience that it’s the hope that kills but also, so I’m told, its the hope that sustains. Yesterday, our little group joined other familiar looking little groups of England fans as we shuffled wearily into the Dubai National Cricket Stadium like hen-pecked spouses being dragged into one of this desert state’s life-sapping gaudy shopping malls. We expected the worse, and, belatedly though inevitably, we got it.
What we also saw was terrific fight from this improving England team. Rewind ten years ago to similar circumstances, and an England team, also recent Ashes winners, rocked up in Pakistan and copped a wake up call as a result. That great team would be broken up just over a year in the most humiliating circumstances in Australia. This England team is different. This team, mostly inexperienced though brimming with youthful endeavour, will get better and grow more resilient together. Mark Wood was England’s man of the match in Dubai. The pick of the bowlers through his work rate and intelligence, Wood’s heroic two hour vigil with the bat almost got England out of this sticky situation in the sand. As it was, his departure effectively put paid to England’s scant hopes of drawing the second Test Match. He’s got nous and spirit has the big daft lad from the North East and will surely be the mainstay of this England team in the years to come.
Batting wise, well, it was all a bit horrific, wasn’t it? A nightmarish third morning effectively decided things. Yasir Shah and Wahab Riaz were the pick of the Pakistan bowlers as Shah’s ingenuity and guile and Wahab’s searing pace prompted England’s muddle-headedness as their last 6 wickets yielded only 36 runs.
Hurting now, England will be back, and led by Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and James Taylor, this middle order will surely come back from this latest debacle and complement the continued excellence of England’s captain at the top of the order. All Alastair Cook needs to do is learn the art of winning the toss and his latest team could be among his greatest….
The real tragedy here wasn’t the setback of England’s defeat but the fact that their opposition, this passionate people still aren’t allowed to play cricket in their own backyard. For five days the local Pakistani community came in their droves to give their team their uniquely passionate support. Pakistan also have a team that is capable of doing great things. Witness and treasure Younus and Misbah (who both enjoyed magnificent matches here) while you still can. Hopefully, within the next five years, international cricket will be back in one of its spiritual homes.
Next for England? A trip down the road to Sharjah. They will put defeat in Dubai behind them and they will put in a good performance. Whether it will be enough to tie the series, we shall see, but they do have the steel and the skill to do this. Then it’s off to South Africa for another huge series in December.
Next for me? After a busy couple of months at the grapeface, I’ll be there to support Cooky and the boys in Cape Town. It’s the hope that sustains, you see….