After that little oasis of serenity on Saturday evening, England reverted to type. In the space of 25 minutes wild hopefulness gave way to grim haplessness as their second innings subsided from 235 for six to 242 all out. No one was predicting an England victory overnight but it was reasonable to expect that the rearguard action might still be in operation at noon and that they could head to Leeds this week with something to savour.
Instead they will head north humbled and humiliated, with their confidence in shreds having been thrashed on their own patch at headquarters by a side ranked seventh in the world, two places below them – though that will change if England perform as ineptly at Headingley. Pakistan won by nine wickets; they performed superbly but unspectacularly like solid old pros who understood the prevailing conditions precisely. And they are supposed to be the callow side. Pakistan bowled full and straight and let the ball swing and seam a little; they batted with grit and patience and they caught their catches. That was more than enough to overwhelm an England team in some disarray.
The England collapse on Sunday morning was numbing. Jos Buttler had batted with great authority on Saturday but in the second over he pushed forward to Mohammad Abbas and was struck on the pad. He reviewed but with no great optimism. Then the new ball polished off the rest at a rush. Mark Wood and Stuart Broad were both caught behind and last man out Dom Bess lost his off stump. Mohammad Amir and Abbas were in clover, taking four wickets each in the innings.
In pursuit of the 64 runs needed to win Pakistan lost Azhar Ali to a fine delivery from Jimmy Anderson. Thereafter there were few alarms. Unlike the first innings, Bess made several deliveries turn but in a hopeless situation he was nowhere near accurate enough to exploit the rough developing outside the left‑handers’ off stump. Rather than inform us about the long-term prospects of Bess excelling at this level, this simply demonstrated what an excellent cricket pitch had been provided at Lord’s, even though England had been woefully unable to exploit its properties. It seamed at the start; it flattened out and if we had reached the fifth day it would have spun.
The scale of this defeat has been so emphatic and unexpected that there will be a hue and cry, which will incorporate calls for the sacking of Trevor Bayliss and/or Joe Root – it seems a little bit early to demand the head of the new national selector, Ed Smith. Of course, Bayliss and Root will continue unless Andy Flower, who is standing in for Andrew Strauss this summer, makes the most spectacular of interventions so early in his role as a locum.
Yet it would be a surprise – and a mistake – if England arrived in Leeds with exactly the same squad. This does not feel like one of those occasions where a defiant selector or coach bellows “same team, different performance, please”. So these are interesting times for Bayliss and Smith and there will be an early indication of how they view the selection process.
At Lord’s we have witnessed a listless, tepid performance from the batsmen, many of whom look haunted by the prospect of another failure that might terminate their careers. The inclusions of Buttler and Bess were modest successes and, if nothing else, they surely highlighted the benefit of fresh faces and minds, which see challenges rather than almighty burdens.
At crisis moments like this selectors must clarify their priorities. They can become tortured and confused if they decide that “fairness” is priority number one; that should not be the case. Priority number one is to pick the best team for the next match. It might be unfair to drop Mark Stoneman for Headingley after just one Test this summer but it is incredibly hard to conclude that he is currently England’s best bet at the top of the order.
All the signs are that Stoneman can be only a modest Test batsman; to achieve that he has to be in good form and full of confidence. Patently that is not the case at the moment. Indeed, we may be reaching a stage when dropping him is almost doing him a favour. By the same token Dawid Malan, even though he has a little more credit in the bank, does not really convince. He battled hard in the Ashes series; indeed, he looked more comfortable than most on harder, bouncier pitches. Since then Test cricket has been a struggle. It might be even more unfair to omit Malan for Headingley but it must also be a consideration. Despite witnessing the capriciousness of the selectors in the 80s and 90s my view is that the trend now is to slavishly stick to the same men until the evidence that they should be dropped is incontrovertible. Maybe it is time to anticipate a decline.
The problem for Smith and Bayliss is that the names of likely replacements are not obvious. Just about the only potential England opener yet to march out with Alastair Cook is Middlesex’s Nick Gubbins, who has enjoyed a prolific start to the season. If he has a weakness against spin, which has been suggested, it is unlikely to be critical against Pakistan at Headingley. Other alternatives are, by definition, not entirely convincing – otherwise they would already be in the team. They range from the 33-year-old James Hildreth to the 22-year-old Joe Clarke, neither of whom has played Test cricket, to recent has-beens such as James Vince and Keaton Jennings. My impression, albeit after a solitary Test this summer, is that it is time to twist rather than stick.