Cricket: England A tour flawed despite success

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Alec Stewart, the England vice-captain, on his way to an undefeated 89 at Pietermaritzburg yesterday Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Empics

It discovered Dean Headley, it relaunched the international careers of Nasser Hussain and Ian Salisbury, and it gave John Emburey an important first taste of management.

Jason Gallian also has good reason to thank the England A tour of Pakistan, for, as a result of his run-scoring over the past two months, he is already in South Africa and primed to resume his Test career over Christmas and new year.

Yet the tour, which ended yesterday with Hussain's squad travelling to Islamabad, from where they will return to London today, has been seriously flawed.

Victories over Pakistan A in the three-match "Test" series, by 1-0, and in the one-day series, 2-1, are results which the young squad can be proud of. Indeed, only in yesterday's final one-day match at Sheikhupura - in their 11th match - were the A team finally defeated. Closer analysis, though, would reveal unsatisfactory elements.

England A tours are about player development. The single major deficiency of this England A tour was that it failed to deliver enough serious cricket to enough players.

Too much time was wasted on non-international cricket, and too much time was wasted in inactivity - with Pakistan's social limitations making it a bad place for young players to be sitting around wishing they were somewhere else.

The Test and County Cricket Board erred in agreeing to a tour itinerary which condemned Hussain's troops to march steadily further north - and consequently into the December bad weather which is bound to disrupt cricket, either through rain or, more frequently and more irritatingly, through bad light.

A huge amount of playing time was lost - and for some that meant the loss of chances to impress, or even chances to get on the field in the first place.

Richard Stemp helped wrap up the first "Test" victory in Multan by taking 5 for 64 on 20 November. Since then the Yorkshire left-arm spinner sent down just 23 first-class overs and did not play any cricket at all between 5 and 18 December.

Warwickshire's Dominic Ostler played only two first-class innings between 27 November and 15 December, wicketkeeper Keith Piper had only four knocks between 14 November and 20 December, all-rounder Craig White played just one innings (out for one) between 27 November and 15 December, and Essex's Ronnie Irani - who started the tour well- had only two first-class batting opportunities after 14 November.

White and Irani bowled just 63.3 and 46.5 first-class overs, respectively, while the Hampshire off-spinner, Shaun Udal, sent down just 66 - and 39 of those were in the very first match.

Hussain, who led with energy and professionalism,was a real success at No 3 with 654 runs from 13 innings. He, Gallian and Nick Knight (350 first- class runs at 43.75) dominated the batting although both 20-year-old Anthony McGrath and the Middlesex left-hander Jason Pooley will remember the pleasure of their hundreds at Lahore.

Kent's Headley (25 first-class wickets in four matches at 15.36) provided the success story and at 25 should have a Test future as well as a chance of World Cup selection next month.

The leg-spinner Salisbury took 20 wickets at 20.65, showing new confidence and a tougher mental approach. His 86 in the Rawalpindi "Test", when he matched Gallian stroke for stroke in a stand of 197, will do his chances of an England recall no harm either.

Stemp (11 wickets at 20.90) and the Sussex fast bowler Ed Giddins (10 at 22.30) also emerged with honour - but they, and others, wanted more.