Asia again a Test too far for pitiful England

WHEN England lost the first Test to Pakistan, Australian coach Mickey Arthur observed that the English were still in their winter woollies. But since then Misbah-ul-Haq's team has hacked away at England and found that the world's No. 1 Test nation was wearing no clothes at all.

England's misery in the Middle East - a 3-0 series whitewash to a team that has faced far greater adversity than most cricketers know - can no longer be dismissed as an aberration. When Australia was the world's leading Test nation, it confronted and eventually conquered what Steve Waugh had called the final frontier (India in India), winning a historic series in Sri Lanka along the way, and the achievements legitimised Australia's reign.

England's capitulation in its first series since attaining the No. 1 ranking continues a horrible record in Asia, where it has won five Tests of 24 since December 2001, with four of those wins against Bangladesh.

Such a dismal return suggests that there is a bit of India's attitude to playing abroad about England's approach to winning in that part of the world, and the Pakistan result will fade in significance if Andrew Strauss and his men successfully defend the Ashes next year.

But unless the England brains trust that planned so meticulously to dismantle Australia last summer devotes equivalent energy and resources to impending series in Sri Lanka and India, the No. 1 ranking will not be England's for long.

Strauss, though, has more to think about than protecting the side's tenuous title as the world's best Test team. It's a testament to his leadership, and to England's success under his charge, that his position has not been one of several questioned in the aftermath of this series defeat.

Alongside the barely comprehensible averages of batsmen Eoin Morgan (13.66), Kevin Pietersen (11.16) and Ian Bell (8.50), whose positions are all on the line, Strauss' 150 runs at 25 looks almost respectable.

Still, the captain's personal batting struggles date to the November before last, when he scored his most recent century in the Brisbane Test. That is the only time Strauss has reached three figures since the 2009 Ashes and his 56 in the first innings of the final Test in Dubai was just his second half-century in 15 innings.

Many battles are still to be fought before next year's Ashes, but Strauss will be 36 by then and, as Ricky Ponting can attest, enduring an Ashes series as an ageing captain fighting for your career can be a draining experience.

The Australians, emboldened by a clean sweep against India, will be watching England's every move between now and the Ashes. Arthur, who has unashamedly said Australia is building a team to win back the urn, has already mentioned the unique pressures England carries as No. 1. ''I was there with South Africa [as No. 1] and it's a totally different pressure. There's a lot of expectation and it will be interesting to see how they handle it, but they have got good leaders, so I'm pretty sure they will be fine,'' he told The Age last month.

''I do think it is going to be a testing summer for England, because they have got us in the one-day series [in June] and then they have got South Africa.

''At the end of it we will see exactly where English cricket is.''

Strauss promised to heed the lessons of England's first series defeat since losing to the West Indies in early 2009.

''We can't ignore this result and just say it's an aberration. That would not help us. This was an eye-opener and a wake-up call and with two more tours on the subcontinent coming up, things won't get easier. We have to be up for this challenge,'' he said.

''We have to look at the reasons we lost. We have to look at our preparation, our training, our techniques and our temperament. It would be wrong for us to ignore these things, but we also need to remain true to what has worked well in the past.

''No one has a right to play for England forever. It would be patently wrong for us to think like that. But we also need to take time to let the dust settle. We need to look at what went wrong individually. Hopefully over the next week or two, things will become clearer.''

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