England set to stick with winning formula

Published: Wednesday, August 16, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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London:England seem certain to go into the fourth and final Test against Pakistan at The Oval with the same side that clinched the series at Headingley.

Pakistan, meanwhile, seem just as certain to ring the changes for the second game in a row.

They will go into the game starting tomorrow with their fourth opening batting combination of the series, after Salman Butt (series average 11.5) and Taufeeq Umar (series average nine), who opened in the third Test, were flown home.

They may well also opt to remodel their bowling attack as well, with quicks Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Mohammad Asif back in contention after missing the first three games with injury.

Bob Woolmer oversaw three changes for the third Test and may go as far as advocating four for the face-saving finale.

Both Rana and Asif, he said, both looked sharp in the nets.

He denied his team, however, were in chaos, preferring to refer to it as ''controlled chaos if anything''.

Pakistan's supporters may not be the only ones in hoping for wholesale changes to their ranks after the home side's dominance at Old Trafford, won by an innings and 120 runs, and Headingley, won by 167 runs.

England fans might just agree with them.

The series has lacked drama to date because of Pakistan's off-colour bowling and Rana and Asif, despite their ring-rustiness, could add just that.

HUGE EXCITEMENT Strike bowler Shoaib Akhtar would have generated huge excitement at The Oval but Pakistan's selectors have opted to hold him back for the One-day series after his return from an ankle stress fracture.

England, with an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series, have certainly outplayed their visitors, but they have also had most of the luck on offer.

They got the better of the umpires' decisions at Headingley, while Pakistan's close catchers continued to gift them life after life, just as they had done in the earlier games.

The home team, however, on the brink of their first series win since the 2005 Ashes, have been much more successful than their opponents in one key area -- getting the best out of their younger, less experienced players.

INSTANT SUCCESS Like Pakistan, England have had a bad run of injuries but their stand-ins have been instantly successful.

Ian Bell, battling to establish himself in the side and shunted down to six in the order, has scored three centuries in successive Tests and averages 119 for the series.

Left-arm spinner Monty Panesar, meanwhile, another man who began the summer as a fringe player, has taken 16 wickets at 25.75 runs apiece.

That compares with Pakistan leg spinner Danish Kaneria's 11 victims at 49 apiece. It is a long time since an England spinner has so comprehensively out-performed a rival from the sub-continent.

Even England coach Duncan Fletcher is now conceding how well Panesar has bowled. He has added hugely to England's versatility which will only be re-doubled with all-rounder Andrew Flintoff's long-awaited return.

Pakistan, however, may yet spring a final surprise at The Oval, especially if they opt to gamble on Rana and Asif. And so what if it backfires? The series has already been lost. And it should at least be intriguing to watch.

Teams: England (probable) - Andrew Strauss (captain), Marcus Trescothick, Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Chris Read, Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, Monty Panesar, Sajid Mahmood.

Pakistan (possible) Mohammad Hafeez, Imran Farhat, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Inzamam-ul-Haq (captain), Faisal Iqbal, Kamran Akmal, Danish Kaneria, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Umar Gul, Mohammad Asif.

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