A different challenge but England's peerless pair need the same heroics

The chance to topple mighty Team Vaughan, revenge for Karachi 2000 - beating Pakistan away promises to be every bit as tough as humbling Australia at home
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Fletcher, still plain Duncan for the moment, would balk at such trappings. This is the man who confesses in his memoir of the unforgettable summer just passed that he felt uncomfortable standing with his players on the victory rostrum at The Oval.

The difference is that the England of October 2000 had recently been beaten ignominiously in the ICC Knockout in Nairobi. While it should perhaps be recalled they had defeated West Indies at home that summer amid gloriously happy Oval scenes which were a small precursor, some judges thought an extra year was pushing it a bit. What did they know?

Five years on, England return to Pakistan this week after vanquishing Australia, the world's best team. This has added piquancy to a series that history suggests was already fairly assured of some action. In Pakistan, they are viewing it as an opportunity to topple the side who toppled the champions, thus making them the new champs.

There is also the little matter of revenge to be exacted. In the dark of Karachi in 2000, after draws in the first two Tests, England won the series in a thrilling finale. The chief memory, apart from Graham Thorpe's final squirt to third man for the winning two runs, is of two non-playing members of the England party moving the sightscreen between balls to hurry things along. Although it was a vital task, Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard may have an equally significant role to play on the other side of the boundary this time.

Flintoff, his deeds of the summer imperishable, is now the world's best cricketer. Hoggard is one of its most underrated. To repeat the triumph, both will probably have to produce influential bowling (and, in Flintoff's case, spectacular batting) at some point in the three-Test series.

The absence of Simon Jones will be felt sharply by England. His summer was one of ceaseless progress until the niggling bone spur on his ankle stopped him in his tracks. Fletcher, in tandem with his captain, Michael Vaughan, is doubtless already working on some new plan. England still possess a balanced attack. If Ashley Giles can be as potent as in 2000, when he took 17 wickets as a Test novice with only one previous cap, their prospects will rise further.

England have made four faintly surprising selections in the reserve wicketkeeper, Matthew Prior, the reserve fast bowler, Liam Plunkett, and the reserve spinners, Shaun Udal and Alex Loudon. Between them they have not played a single Test. They may be informed hunches, but they are hunches.

Loudon, for instance, impres-sed observers because he has added a wrong 'un (the vogue term is doosra) to his off-spinning armoury. He got wickets with it, too, Mark Butcher for one. None the less, he took 37 wickets last summer at 36.64, and as eight of those were in the last match, he was actually selected on figures of 29 wickets at 47 each. It never happened to Jim Laker.

The conventional wisdom is that runs will be scored slowly on slow pitches and the Tests will go into a fifth day. Pakistan have played only 13 home Tests since England's last tour (compared to the 35 in England) because of political circumstances. India and Sri Lanka both rattled along at four runs an over at times, and when India visited early last year, two of the matches were over in four days, the third dribbled into the fifth. England will probably not be hanging about if they can help it.

Pakistan have an array of fast bowlers to augment the leg-spin of Danish Kaneria. Their strong middle order - captain Inzamam ul-Haq, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf - needs an opening pair to provide a platform.

The hope is that the tour passes peacefully. To try to ensure harmony the Pakistan board asked for, and got, two neutral umpires for all matches, including the five one-dayers. England's tours to the country have usually been beset by umpiring rows, or riots, or both.

It all began half a century ago when an MCC A team visited. During the third unofficial Test, in what was said to be a ragging, England players poured cold water over one of the umpires, Idris Begh, after some contentious decisions. Following an exchange of cables, the team were not recalled home. The consequences of such an incident today are beyond contemplation.

Eventually, the captain of the touring party took the rap for the team. He was Donald Carr, father of John, the England and Wales Cricket Board's director of cricket operations, who has agreed this tour's playing conditions.

The lessons of history; the boys of 2005 might think that worth a wry reflection if there are dark moments this autumn.


Test squad: M P Vaughan (capt), J M Anderson, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, A Flintoff, A F Giles, S J Harmison, M J Hoggard, ÝG O Jones, L E Plunkett, A G R Loudon, K P Pietersen, M J Prior, A J Strauss, M E Trescothick, S D Udal.

One-day squad: M P Vaughan (capt), J M Anderson, P D Collingwood, A Flintoff, A F Giles, S J Harmison, G O Jones, L E Plunkett, K P Pietersen, M J Prior, V S Solanki, A J Strauss, M E Trescothick.


Matthew Maynard: The batting coach

Having retired as a player in June, Matthew Maynard was swiftly recruited by Duncan Fletcher. The pair met in Fletcher's Glamorgan days and Maynard, while having a very different personality, has impressed with his passion and batting nous.

Troy Cooley: The bowling coach

England's bowlers have made huge progress under the Tasmanian. Stephen Harmison became world No 1, Simon Jones has learned consistent reverse swing, Andrew Flintoff has stayed fit. They swear by his biomechanical knowledge and encouragement of flair.

Tim Boon: The analyst

An average county cricketer, Tim Boon has become a diligent, text-book coach. He mixes that with analysing every ball on a laptop and interpreting the results almost on the run. That allows Vaughan to know the most effective field placings for every batsman.

Nigel Stockill: The physiologist

It has taken time, but England cricketers are at their fittest ever. Nigel Stockill has a knack of concentrating on individual needs in terms of drawing up dietary and training regimes and leaves the rest up to the player. Michael Vaughan's fitness mantra could have been made for him.

Kirk Russell: The physiotherapist

The New Zealander is an earnest man with a detailed knowledgeof sporting injuries, which he is often prepared to explain in layman's terms. His treatment - and prevention - of injuries has been a key element of the selectorial continuity.