Pakistan seek killer punch against England

Published: Wednesday, July 26, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Manchester:The first Test between England and Pakistan resembled a bout between slow-moving, soft-punching heavyweights. Neither ever looked likely to land a knock-out blow.

Old Trafford may serve up more of the same -- plenty of runs and not enough wickets -- when the second Test begins tomorrow.

Andrew Strauss's England certainly look short of the firepower required to twice dislodge Pakistan's talented batting line-up.

English fans spent most of the past week praying for the rapid return of captain and all rounder Andrew Flintoff to add bite to the bark, but he is now heading back for another ankle operation and three more months on the sidelines.

To add to Strauss's problems, fast-medium bowler Liam Plunkett was also ruled out with a side strain yesterday.

Pakistan are also hampered by injuries, with strike bowlers Rana Naved-ul-Hasan missing the entire tour (groin) and Shoaib Akhtar still unfit after a stress fracture . All rounder Abdul Razzaq is also complaining of a sore back though he is expected to play.

The return of a batsman rather than a bowler, however, may yet tip the advantage their way in Manchester.

Younis Khan, apart from being a perfect foil for Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf at the top of the Pakistan batting order, is a specialist slip fielder. Had he played in the first Test, he would surely have held on to a string of catches that Pakistan shelled in that position to allow England to post 528 for nine declared in the first innings.

Ultimately the Manchester pitch, which is expected to offer good pace and bounce, will hold as big an influence on the result as it did in the opening game.

Another true and durable surface would suggest the bat again dominating the ball. One double century and four individual centuries were scored on a baked hard Lord's pitch. If confidence counts for anything, though, then the money should be on Pakistan. Whatever they say in public, the tourists will be delighted that Flintoff will not be running in at them at Old Trafford. They will also be upbeat after saving the first Test by batting out the final day so comfortably.

Then there are the history books. Pakistan last lost a series in England in 1982 and have won three of the last four.

England, in contrast, look short on self-belief. They failed to go for the jugular at Lord's, with Strauss clearly distrusting an attack that let him down in the recent One-dayers against Sri Lanka.

The inclusion in the squad of Jamie Dalrymple -- a solid batsman who bowls tidy off spin -- also smacks of conservatism rather than boldness and is hardly likely to keep Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer awake at night.

Former Australia captain Steve Waugh told the Independent newspaper in the build-up to Old Trafford that England had lost their momentum since the 2005 Ashes. It is an observation which could just as easily have come from a man with a white stick and a labrador than from a player with 10,927 runs.

Waugh also argued they had mislaid their ''killer instinct'' and reverted to their ''old bad habits''.

In truth, though, England have lost killer players.

At the same ground against Australia last year, Michael Vaughan made 166 in the first innings and pace bowler Simon Jones took six for 53. Flintoff added four for 71 in the second.

All three are now long-term onlookers.

It is hard to imagine their trio of replacements serving up anything of such high quality this time.


England: Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Geraint Jones, Matthew Hoggard, Stephen Harmison, Monty Panesar, Jon Lewis, Sajid Mahmood, Jamie Dalrymple.

Pakistan (probable): Salman Butt, Imran Farhat, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Abdul Razzaq, Kamran Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Sami, Umar Gul, Danish Kaneria.

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