Pakistan crush England to level series
England captain Alastair Cook said his side had still to conquer some longstanding problems after Pakistan had derailed their quest to become the world's number one Test side. Pakistan's emphatic 10-wicket win in the fourth Test at The Oval, a victory achieved with more than a day to spare, saw the tourists deservedly end the four-match series all square at 2-2.
In the process they ended England's immediate hopes of returning to the top of the world rankings for the first time since 2012 and prevented Cook's side from holding bilateral series trophies against all the other nine Test-playing nations.
Opening batsman Cook and number three Joe Root continued to rack up the runs, but the rest of England's specialist batsmen struggled against Pakistan.
Cook and Root scored a combined 935 at an average of 66.78 over the four Tests, whereas the equivalent tally for the other members of the top five -- Alex Hales, James Vince and Gary Ballance -- was 498 runs at 22.63.
"Consistently, we haven't scored enough runs at the top of the order," Cook said.
"It's great we've got strength in depth. But the majority of the time they should be putting the icing on the cake, not making the cake. "It is frustrating. It's a big area we've got to keep working on -- and obviously, for us to take that next step, top-order first-innings runs are vital." Ever since former captain Andrew Strauss retired four years ago, England have struggled to find a reliable partner at the top of the order for Cook, with Nottinghamshire's Hales the latest batsman to be given a chance to make the position his own."It's not easy," Cook said. "Until you get that score, it is a very hard place to be. But there is a hell of a lot of talent in the guys who are playing."
'No Yasir Shah'
Spin remains an issue too, with Moeen Ali's position as the lone specialist slow bowler in a five-man attack again under scrutiny. The off-spinner's11 wickets in the Pakistan series came at an expensive average of 46.54 apiece and denied Cook the control he wanted in the field."With the spin, Mo has done a fantastic job for us since he came into the side as a batter who bowled a bit -- and he's had to share a lot of responsibility to do that as part of a five-man attack."
"He's not a Yasir Shah, and probably never will be," added Cook in a reference to the Pakistan leg-spinner, who took 10 wickets in the tourists' first Test win at Lord's and five for 71 in England's second innings across London at The Oval."But he continues to work incredibly hard at it - and he picks up vital wickets.
"It's an area of the game which we'll look at." England's fallible close catching was another worry for Cook. "We can't afford to drop as many catches as we have in this series if we want to bowl sides out on good wickets like this one here," he said. But Cook said the team's problems at The Oval were a fair reflection of their overall standing as a side who now remain fourth in the world rankings. "At the beginning of this game it was 'you can become number one, could do all this'," he said. "Probably these four days (show) exactly where we are." A bad Test for Hales was made worse when he was fined 15 percent of his match fee for confronting third umpire Joel Wilson following his controversial first-innings dismissal off a low catch. Nottinghamshire and England team-mate Stuart Broad received a 20 percent fine for his Twitter comments on the topic. "It's not ideal," he said of Hales's conduct. "In the heat of the moment... I'm sure he won't do that again."
Pakistan deserve to be rated the No. 1 Test side, according to their captain, , in recognition of their success despite being unable to play any games at home.
Pakistan won the final Test against England at The Oval to square the series 2-2. It means that, should Sri Lanka defeat Australia by a margin of 2-0 (or better) and West Indies draw the Port of Spain Test, Pakistan would claim the No.1 spot for the first time since the official rankings were introduced in 2003. Their highest placing to date is second, which they achieved following the series win over England in the UAE at the end of 2015.
Misbah believes that, for a side obliged to host its home series in the UAE due to concerns over the security situation in Pakistan since 2009, that is a remarkable record.
"This team deserves that for six years of not playing any games at home," Misbah said. "Sometimes people think it's really easy for us playing in the UAE. They think the wickets suit us and we win there."But just living every day away from your country, without your family and friends, and playing every game away from Pakistan, is really difficult. It's mentally tough.
"I can only see my mother once a year. I only see my sister once a year. Some of my friends, I could not see for three or four years because of these commitments. We are out of the country all the time. There are a lot of tours and even our home series are in the UAE. We go from West Indies to New Zealand to Australia. It's not easy."But still the team is winning. Still the team is playing competitive cricket. There were lots of questions before we came here about whether we could only play in Asian conditions, but we have shown that we are good enough to play even in these conditions. At one stage we were winning this series.
"I'm really proud of this team and I think that, if we can be No. 1 after all these results, then we really deserve that."