England have failed on this tour of the United Arab Emirates before they have even played a competitive game.
Pakistan have not lost a Test series in the UAE since they started playing their home games there in 2010. The gluey wickets and searing heat are similar enough to Pakistani conditions that no other side has yet to make a convincing effort of playing in them.
Pakistan v England spectators should expect similar struggles in the UAE: an Andrew Strauss-led side travelled there in 2012 and found Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman unplayable. They made Rehman, a common garden slow-left-armer, look like Warne, Sobers and Chandrasekhar all wrapped up into one.
The size of the task facing England is not to be underestimated. Except, it would appear, by Trevor Bayliss, as he put out a side of 15 to play Pakistan A, in two two-day games, separated by one day, that included the home side finishing 198-12 at the end of day one, and Moeen Ali batting twice in one innings. It was, simply put, a glorified farce.
It reminded me of 2010-11, when England finally triumphed in Australia for the first time since dinosaurs walked the earth (or the 1980s). Strauss’ men played two three-day and one four-day games before the first Test. They made it very clear in those games that they were in Australia to play hard, uncompromising cricket.
They won two of the games, by six and ten wickets, and drew another having declared 300 ahead. This would be no repeat of the farcical 2006-07 series. This was a professional cricket machine. Now, warm-up games are exactly that. Warm-ups. But that 10-11 tour proved how you could use them to your advantage.
The UAE is a pretty unique cricketing environment, and could scarcely be more different from the one that England have just come away from.
The side they are playing is a very different one too. Pakistan have been quietly building themselves into one of the best sides in the world, with a prolific batting line-up (yes, Younis Khan is STILL playing) that combines youthful exuberance with hardy experience. They recently jumped to third in the world with a hard-fought series win in Sri Lanka, chasing down 380 in the fourth innings. It is clear that Misbah-ul-Haq’s men are not to be underestimated.
Compare that to the Australians who threw their wickets away in England all summer, and believe that Pakistan will not be getting bowled out before lunch anytime soon.
England’s own batting is far from its best. It’s still not clear who will open the batting with Alastair Cook and whether Bayliss will follow through on his hint to drop Jos Buttler, who has been dire with the bat of late.
They needed to score heavily in the run-up to the first Test to give themselves a semblance of confidence going into one of the toughest arenas in world cricket. But as it is, those runs would have meant next to nothing, because they would have been scored in a game with zero intensity.
It was unbelievable to watch. England did certainly not thrash Pakistan A. They toiled in the heat, with ice blankets and near-constant hydration. But they did so with perfunctory effort.
At one point, Stuart Broad took a brilliant diving catch at square leg off the bowling of Mark Wood, and even the man with the invisible horse struggled to giddy up towards his team-mate. I’ve seen square practices with more edge.
Ali suffered perhaps the most, although to blame his three dismissals in a week on the games in which he endured them perhaps masks his greater issues.
Notwithstanding, it was not a particularly useful few days, although Bayliss and co will tell you in many words that it was. They’re getting used to the heat, they’ll say. They’re learning about the conditions, they’ll say.
But the simple truth is that those learning experiences will mean nothing; pressure changes everything, and the first morning of the first Test on Tuesday will feel as alien as it possibly could have.