f you were the captain of the English Test team at this very moment, you would probably want to just get away from anything even remotely synonymous with the word spin and you would probably want to believe that a nightmare has just passed. In reality though, at the back of your mind, you would be well aware that the nightmare isn’t over, it has only just started.
A 3-0 whitewash to Pakistan is what England had to succumb to. Something that had never happened before to the ‘Queen’s Men’ against Pakistan in the history of Test cricket. England went into the series as the ‘numero uno’ of the longest format of the game, but came out looking nowhere close to being the best in the world. Against the art of spin, they looked as fragile as a thin sheet of glass and a team batting average of just 19.06 at the end of the series was proof of that fact. To say England looked uncomfortable against spin would be an understatement, because they didn’t look just uncomfortable, they looked woeful, and that is where England’s problem starts.
Inability to play spin, a few nerves jingling as the number one spot seems to be slipping away and a series in Sri Lanka, a real spin haven, couple them together and you know you have a nightmare brewing. Pakistan’s spinners took a whopping 48 wickets against England in the Test series on pitches that assist spin bowlers but don’t really spit and kick off the surface until the fourth or fifth day of play. Come March, England will have to travel to Sri Lanka and play a two Test series on tracks that turn from day one, and one wouldn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure that the visitors will certainly struggle.
The first of those Tests is at Galle, a venue that hosted Australia versus Sri Lanka last and saw both teams complaining about the enormous amount of turn that the pitch offered. In fact that series saw 26 out of 48 wickets being taken by the Sri Lankan tweakers. A percentage of a little over a fifty, but one that is bound to rise when the Englismen set foot on Sri Lankan soil.
England’s batting average in the series against Pakistan was appallingly low, but what is worse is the fact that the figure dropped further against spin to a miserly 15.64. That also happens to be their second lowest average against spin in a series, and I wouldn’t be risking too much if I put my money on England recording a similar series average in Sri Lanka. One could obviously argue that it was the quality of spin from Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman that made England whimper and there is no denying that. The fact is though, that on a turning Galle or Colombo wicket, one doesn’t need to be as gifted as an Ajmal to make the batsmen struggle. More so if the batsmen already have a weakness against spin. Nathan Lyon’s five wicket haul in an innings against Sri Lanka at Galle is an example of that fact.
Despite the outcome of the series against Pakistan, the ICC rankings still have England as the best Test playing nation at the moment. The question to ask though, is just for how long can England cling onto that number one spot. With a series in Sri Lanka and one much later in India, it doesn’t look like ‘The Three Lions’ will be very confident of holding onto that rank. There is some respite for the English in between those two series, as they host West Indies and South Africa. England will bank on coming out on top in the home series for as has become the norm in recent times, cricketing nations have become ‘Kings’ in their backyard but ‘Peasants’ overseas. If they don’t get the results they want in those home matches, England would almost certainly be staring at a slide down the rankings table.