Pakistan facing Test of nerve against England

Published: Thursday, August 3, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Leeds:Pakistan know only victory in the third Test against England here at Headingley will be good enough to keep alive their hopes of taking the series after a crushing defeat last time out.

England's innings and 120-run win, completed inside three days, in the second Test at Old Trafford last week left them 1-0 up in the four-Test encounter after a drawn opener at Lord's.

Pakistan had no answer in Manchester to fast bowler Stephen Harmison, who took a devastating six for 19 as the tourists collapsed to a meagre 119 all out in their first innings.

From then on Pakistan were always chasing the game and defeat was made all the worse Saturday when England slow left-armer Monty Panesar dented their deserved reputation as fine players of spin by taking five for 72, including five of the top six.

Meanwhile, the major handicap that has dogged Pakistan throughout this series - the absence through injury of leading fast bowlers Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan - remains.

Trying to find a solid opening batting partnership has also been a problem.

And with Imran Farhat set to miss the Headingley match because of a broken finger sustained while catching Kevin Pietersen at Old Trafford, Pakistan are on course to field their third different opening combination in as many Tests.

Promoting Kamran Akmal to the top of the order in Manchester (where he scored just four in both innings) was not a success.

Pakistan could now recall Salman Butt, dropped for the second Test, while fellow opener Taufeeq Umar, a late addition to the squad, is another possibility.

Coach Bob Woolmer is also contemplating changes to Pakistan's bowling attack after they went in with two leg-spinners, Danish Kaneria and Shahid Afridi, at Old Trafford.

However, in the last 10 years at Headingley only one frontline England spinner has taken a Test wicket (left-armer Ashley Giles dismissing India's Rahul Dravid in 2002).

That has left Woolmer thinking of playing four quicks and one spinner.

Paceman Mohammad Sami, especially, struggled to make much of an impression in Manchester and Pakistan, for all their injury problems, have the likes of seamers Rao Iftikhar Anjum, Shahid Nazir and the uncapped Samiullah Niazi all available.

But, as he weighed up his options, Woolmer admitted: "We've just got to play better than we did last time."

In recent years the Headingley pitch has shed its reputation for providing excessive help to the faster bowlers and now it is generally the overhead conditions which determine how much the ball will move off straight.

Woolmer said the ground hadn't done much for spinners since his Kent and England team-mate Derek Underwood returned match figures of 10 for 82 against Australia in 1972 on a Headingley pitch affected by the grass disease Fuserium.

"There doesn't look like there's any Fuserium (now). We would probably go in with four seamers I should think or close to that."

He added: "I suppose in modern cricket you are looking for seven batsmen and four top-line bowlers. Whether we can do that at the moment, it's not easy.

"But we might have to and tell the players to take responsibility and get on with it. We have to come out positive, forget Old Trafford and put it right behind us."

For England, who could play Jon Lewis instead of Sajid Mahmood as the third seamer, all eyes will be on wicket-keeper Chris Read following his recall in place of the dropped Geraint Jones.

Jones, who supplanted Read two years ago on account of his better batting, has lost his place after just one fifty in his last 15 Test innings.

Earlier this season Read scored 150 not out for England A against Pakistan but his current Test batting average is under 16.

Meanwhile, Panesar, for all his recent success, could find life harder at Headingley where swing specialist Matthew Hoggard - wicketless at Old Trafford - will be looking to impress in front of his Yorkshire home crowd.

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