Angus Fraser: Are England's problems in Pakistan the result of their own complacency?
And the other vital questions facing the summer's heroes, three days before they play their first Test since the Ashes glory
Wednesday 09 November 2005
But it is England, and not Pakistan, who have the problems as the first Test approaches and there are many thoughts going through the minds of those supporters who cheered England to a remarkable victory eight weeks ago.
Have England's problems in the early part of the tour been the result of the Ashes winners' own complacency?
Possibly, although nobody in the England squad would admit it. Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, said that this touring party is as hard working as any he has had. And it is hard to disagree with him. The players are in the hotel gym training hard every day and the practice sessions appear as intense as ever.
But only the players will know whether they are working as diligently as they were before the Ashes. There are a lot of players who look like they are working hard and do the right things but it is the successful ones who constantly train with purpose. They do it for a reason - to get better.
It is possible that some of the team could be suffering from an Ashes hangover. No, they are not still drunk from the celebrations, but subconsciously they may be struggling to get motivated for this series having been on such a high eight weeks ago. The body does not always do what the mind tells it, and when this happens it is hard to play with the intensity you want or need.
The real time to watch England closely is when the Test begins on Saturday morning because being on the big stage again should be enough to spark them back into action. If it does not, they have problems. Remember, England were electric on the first morning of the Ashes.
If Michael Vaughan drops out, Kevin Pietersen will probably bat at four. Is he up to it?
Pietersen has spent most of his career batting at five, so there is a slight risk in promoting him up the order. He has the ability to thrive at four, but he will have to get used to facing a newer ball and fresher bowlers. His technique has been criticised by some, and he will need to tighten it up a bit because bowlers are not mugs. But it is the number in the end column that counts, and Pietersen's figures look pretty good at the moment.
Pietersen shuffles across his crease and this makes him an lbw candidate early on. The movement also means he occasionally plays at balls he could leave alone. He must not let his head fall to the off-side because this could allow bowlers to expose his technique.
Pietersen is one of the players to watch closely because he will struggle to relive the emotions he went through on the final day at the Oval - when he scored a brilliant 158 - and in the weeks after. His lifestyle since that innings suggests he has the potential to become a Champagne Charlie, but he will do well to find any bubbly in Pakistan.
He needs to make sure that he does not think he has cracked Test cricket. He must work as hard at his game as he did before he played for England because his technique could let him down if he becomes careless. It should not be a problem, Pietersen seems to thrive on hard work, but you never know.
How's Freddy looking?
A bit heavier than he was in September, but that will come off after a few overs. Andrew Flintoff bowled magnificently during the Rest of the World v Australia match but he hasn't bowled since and he looked a little rusty against Pakistan A. With the bat he looked OK. He was unlucky in the first innings and got carried away in the second. His attitude seems fine. He will be fine.
How must Ian Bell be feeling?
Bell has had a difficult week. He scored three runs in Rawalpindi, he was bowled by England's travelling doctor at practice on Saturday and he was omitted from the likely Test side which lost to Pakistan A in Lahore.
Yet he will replace Vaughan and bat at three on Saturday if the captain's knee injury is as bad as everyone expects. It will be tough on Bell, but Test cricket is tough, and he needs to show that he can do what is required in these circumstances. He has nothing to lose and should go into the game with a positive attitude.
Vaughan looks almost certain to miss at least the first Test. How significant will his absence be?
Vaughan has only missed one Test since becoming captain in 2003. It was against New Zealand at Lord's in 2004, and Marcus Trescothick guided England to a remarkable seven-wicket victory.
Vaughan's knee injury allowed England to find a class player and get rid of an old one. Andrew Strauss scored a century on his Test debut and was in line for a second before Nasser Hussain ran him out on 83. Hussain went on to score a match-winning hundred as England successfully chased their largest fourth-innings total at Lord's. A couple of days after the match Hussain announced his retirement from cricket.
Yes, but is Trescothick any good as a captain?
He's all right. He does not possess the same presence as Vaughan and he is not as dynamic and adventurous in the field. Trescothick is respected by his team-mates and he is basically pretty sound.
What sort of wicket can we expect? Have the hosts been setting England up by playing the warm-up games on seamer-friendly pitches?
In Pakistan you can get any type of pitch. They can suit fast bowlers, spinners and batsmen. It would be dangerous for the groundsman to change the nature of the pitch this close to the match but England have struggled against pace and leg-spin. Pakistan possess both and they will be able to exploit any pitch placed in front of them.
It has been strange to see England play their warm-up games on pitches that have seamed about because you do not expect to see them here. We will only know whether it is part of a cunning plan when we see the Test pitch in Multan.
So there is no chance of England scoring 400 regularly?
England's batting line-up for Saturday looks thin when it is compared to the one that played against Australia during the summer. A lot will depend on the openers. Trescothick and Strauss are top players but they need to protect England's middle order. Bell, Pietersen and Paul Collingwood are an inexperienced combination at three, four and five.
So it's Pakistan for the series then?
No. Before Simon Jones withdrew with an ankle injury England were strong favourites, and even without him I still fancied them. It will be interesting to see how they cope without Vaughan. If he only misses one Test I still tip England to win. If he is out for the series...
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