As they take on Pakistan on at Leeds, England will have plenty to ponder on their batting. Foremost on their mind would be stringing together big partnerships.
In the past one year England have played eight Tests at home, winning five and losing three of them. This includes series wins against South Africa and West Indies, with the ongoing series against Pakistan standing 0-1 in favour of the visitors.
The result of the Lord's Test last week was predictable in many ways despite the low hopes on Pakistan's Test team hit by the recent retirement of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, arguably their two most influential players of the past decade.
It was England's miserable run, especially the woes surrounding their batting, in recent times that brightened Pakistan's chances. They had lost miserably to Australia in the Ashes and the New Zealand away series hadn't quite gone as expected.
The batting anguishes, coupled with a potent Pakistan bowling attack, made for a juicy battle, and the latter won with little discomfort. While England do have problems on the bowling front, it is their batting collapses that will give Joe Root and Trevor Bayliss headaches.
Aside from their batting miseries at Lord's — 4/19, 4/6 and 5/16 — across two innings, England have endured quite a few string of batting debacles in the past one year, both home and away, in Tests. A glance at some of them gives a better idea of where England really do have issues.
Versus Pakistan, Lord's — May, 2018 — 4/19, 4/6 and 5/16
In the first innings of the Lord's Test, England were better placed after three quick wickets early in the innings. At 168/5, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler were at the crease with decent lower-order batsmen to follow. However, Stokes’ wicket to Mohammad Abbas triggered a collapse that saw them lose the next five wickets for 16 runs, resulting in a paltry total of 184.
To follow up on this, they lost 4/19 and 4/6 at different stages of the second innings. Dawid Malan, Jonny Bairstow, Stokes and Joe Root fell in the space of 19 runs as they went from 2/91 to 6/110. However, Buttler and Dom Bess put up a resilient show, evoking feelings of an England win. But in yet another mini collapse they lost their last four wickets in the space of six runs to be bowled out for 242 from 236/6.
Versus New Zealand, Auckland — March, 2018 — 10/52
In their worst batting performance of the year, England folded like a pack of cards on day one of their tour of New Zealand after the Ashes debacle. They lost their first wicket, that of Alastair Cook, at 6, and the others followed soon after, resulting in an embarrassing total of 58. Tim Southee and Trent Boult shared spoils, picking up four and six wickets between them. The fact that England managed to survive just 124 balls in the entire innings became the butt of several jokes.
Versus Australia, Adelaide — December, 2017 — 7/64
Having bowled out Australia for 138 in the second innings of the second Test of the Ashes, England seemed to have gained enough momentum to atleast challenge the fourth innings target of 354. Mark Stoneman and Joe Root led the charge, as England moved to 169/3 in pursuit of 354. Root looked well set to haunt Australia, when Malan, his partner was cleaned up by Pat Cummins. It was the beginning of a parade of England batsmen, walking in and walking back, at Adelaide. Their last seven fell for a meagre 64 runs as none of the middle or lower order batsmen put up any kind of resistance. They were bowled out for 233, losing by 120 runs despite starting off pretty well in the innings.
Versus West Indies, Lord’s — September, 2017 — 5/62
England might have comfortably won the Lord's Test, the series decider, against West Indies in September last year but it wasn't without hurdles along the way. In the first innings, after bowling out West Indies for 123, England lost their first five wickets for 63 runs, going from 1/1 to 63/5 to give the visitors a sniff at sneaking in a rare series win. Even if that didn't quite materialise, the top order came under scrutiny for their jittery show.
Versus South Africa, Trent Bridge and Lord's — July, 2017 — 10/129, 9/94
In the beginning of their collapse sequence at Lord's, England lost their last nine wickets for 94 runs in the second innings of the first Test of the South African series. Looking to set up a daunting target, England began well, moving to 139/1 but Alastair Cook's wicket triggered a collapse that saw them being bowled out for 233. Moeen Ali's six wicket haul in the final innings helped them win the Test comfortably but that did not mask the problems hidden within their batting line-up.
It came to the fore yet again at Trent Bridge in the very next Test as they were bowled out for 133 in pursuit of a high fourth innings target. All 10 wickets fell in the space of 129 runs as South African attack wreaked havoc on the England batting line-up. They lost by a whopping 340 runs and had only themselves to blame.
The above instances show how England have struggled to pull together their batting unit despite managing to stay afloat with their bowling in home Tests. Against Pakistan in the first Test, their bowling lacked the incision needed to make up for the batting unit's failures, and a group of young Pakistan batsmen took the game away from them. Their batting once again lacked the temperament and maturity to play out the accuracy of Abbas and the zip of Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali.
As they take on Pakistan on at Leeds, England will have plenty to ponder on their batting. Foremost on their mind would be stringing together big partnerships, something they have sorely lacked despite having three of the best Test batsmen in recent times — Cook, Root and Bairstow.
The onus will be on these three, as well as Stokes, to marshal fairly inexperienced batsmen like Keaton Jennings and Malan. They cannot afford another collapse at Leeds, specially with James Anderson and Stuart Broad looking off-colour.
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