Since the Oval Test of 1985, England have failed to win once in 10 domestic outings, and, unless they rectify that here, Pakistan will go home (doubtless to receive whatever their equivalent is of a mass knighthood) with their first-ever series victory in this country.
Pakistan's captain Imran Khan has reiterated his claim that the tourists will not sit back on a 1-0 lead, while Gatting insists that he is prepared to gamble on a 0-2 scoreline in an all-out effort to grab the equaliser. In both cases, this will put quite a strain on natural instinct, but, if they are to be believed, a rousing finale to a hitherto disappointing and ill-tempered series may still be a possibility.
There has not been much love lost between the two sets of players, and the long-standing nonsense over the umpiring resurfaced again yesterday via the tourists' smiling, rent-a-moan manager Hasib Ahsan.
Hasib, who with the backing of his Pakistan Cricket Board has three times objected unsuccessfully to one of today's officials, David Constant, and once to the other, Ken Palmer, announced that Pakistan will be withdrawing their plan to use neutral umpires for England's three-Test tour there later this year.
Last winter they employed Indian officials for the West Indies' visit, but Hasib said yesterday: "While we still believe in neutral umpires, no other country has followed suit, so there is no point in our carrying on." This seems fair enough, but there is more than a hint of two fingers about it. As for the TCCB's decision to overrule the latest objection to Constant last week, Imran said: "Our players will be taking the field with an open mind."
England, on the other hand, will merely be taking the field with three openers, and Gatting ended speculation on which one will have to wait for one of the other two to get out by naming Martyn Moxon as Bill Athey's replacement at No 3.
The Oval pitch is likely to be the quickest of the series and this may favour Pakistan, Imran and Wasim Akram have been dangerous enough so far as it is, and the dark thought lingers that Abdul Qadir might just be about to produce the goods in conditions that suit him.
Gatting is certainly worried about that, but is also content with the form of his own batsman. "I was very happy to see David Gower among the runs this week, and I'm confident we have the right team to attack in a sensible way. It will be hard for us, but right at the start of the series I said that Pakistan were a team full of ability."
Imran, who has consistently confirmed his intention to retire after this Test, despite optimistic noises from both Javed Miandad and Hasib about persuading him to carry on, said that ending on a personal high was of less concern to him than the team winning a first-ever series here.
"If we can do it," he said, "it will rank alongside doing the same thing in India last year. We will be positive, and having got into a rhythm after early disruptions with the weather, we're confident."
Imran has declared himself "100 per cent" fit to bowl despite the hip muscle injury that he wanted to try out at Southampton on Monday, but was prevented from doing because of the Hampshire captain's old-fashioned view of tourist games - i.e. that it might be a novel idea to play them with a view to winning as opposed to an elongated net.
ENGLAND (from): BC Broad, RT Robinson, MD Moxon, DI Gower, MW Gatting (capt), IT Botham, JE Emburey, BN French, NA Foster, NV Radford, PH Edmonds, GR Dilley.
PAKISTAN (from): Shoaib Mohammad, Mudassar Nazar, Mansoor Akhtar, Javed Miandad, Salim Malik, Imran Khan (capt), Ijaz Ahmed, Saleem Yousuf, Wasim Akram, Abdul Qadir, Mohsin Kamal, Ramiz Raja, Tauseef Ahmed.
Umpires: DJ Constant, KE Palmer.
From the Sports pages of 'The Independent', Thursday 6 August 1987