The England cricket team’s cherished world number one status is under severe threat after a humiliating 3-0 series whitewash at the hands of a resurgent Pakistan in the UAE.
An unforgettable Ashes victory in Australia over 2010/11 and a ruthless annihilation of India at home last year helped Andy Flower’s team to the summit of the World Test rankings, but their recent capitulation has given nearest rivals South Africa a glimmer of hope.
The Proteas travel to New Zealand for a three-test series next month, and a repeat of the 3-0 score line in their favour would see them replace England in top spot. Moreover, they would receive $175,000 (about £110,000) from the ICC for being the No 1 Test side on April 1.
Severe frailties against spin condemned England to the crushing series defeat – their first ever whitewash at the hands of Pakistan – as in six innings the team passed the total of 200 only twice.
There was not one English centurion throughout the series, while the middle order was uncharacteristically brittle, as exemplified by the fact that none of Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan reached 40 in 29 innings on tour.
The unfamiliar conditions in the UAE – a neutral venue as Pakistan is still deemed unsafe to host international cricket – were always going to make run-scoring difficult, but England’s frequent collapses against the spin of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, who took 43 wickets between them, will have alarmed Flower.
The England coach identified his side’s lack of preparation ahead of the series as their downfall, something he will no doubt rectify ahead of another tricky series in Sri Lanka.
South Africa’s performance in New Zealand as they chase the number one spot, however, is something well and truly out of his control.