Angus Fraser: England ready to ring changes by dropping Bell

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The Independent Online

Paul Collingwood is the player set to benefit from Bell's omission but he, along with the remaining England batsmen - bar Marcus Trescothick - can hardly say they are in top form after two poor batting displays against the Patron's XI this week. Collingwood has long been a favourite of Vaughan and Fletcher, and the fact that the all-rounder batted ahead of Bell in Rawalpindi suggests that England are seriously considering playing him in Multan in a week's time.

But dropping Bell, and making a further change to England's Ashes-winning side, would seem a tad harsh. There is nothing the selectors could have done about the injury which forced Simon Jones to withdraw from the tour, but the 10 other players who helped create those wonderful scenes at the end of the summer deserve the chance to play in England's next Test. This is not sentimental claptrap. England won as a team, and it is the team who should be rewarded.

When Bell posted half-centuries against Australia in each innings of the Old Trafford Test, it looked as though he had cracked it but he did little to further his cause in the final two matches of the series. In four innings at Trent Bridge and the Oval he scored just six runs and finished the series with a modest batting average of 17.1. He also spent only 20 minutes at the crease in Rawalpindi, where he collected just three runs.

Bell is naturally quiet and he appears to go even further into his shell when things are not going his way. This has not gone unnoticed and he will need to maintain a good work ethic if he is to continue to impress Fletcher. But Bell is only 23 and he remains one of the most talented young players in the country. England rated him so highly that they picked him ahead of Graham Thorpe against Australia and they should back that judgement now.

England will welcome back Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison who, after playing in October's Australia versus the Rest of the World fiasco, were allowed to spend an extra week at home. Vaughan would have been pleased to watch his two most influential bowlers perform well in Sydney but conditions here are set to be far different from those they encountered Down Under.

Flintoff and Harmison have not bowled in the past fortnight and will need to adapt quickly if they are to please their captain next Saturday. Bowling fast in Pakistan is not an enjoyable occupation.

Pakistan is not a destination England and Australia have visited regularly since they began playing Test cricket in 1955, but only 10 bowlers for either side have taken more than 10 wickets in a series. For England, only two of these bowlers - Neil Foster and Darren Gough - were of the fastish variety, whereas Australia's leg-spinners - Shane Warne, Richie Benaud and Stuart MacGill - are the best performing slow bowlers, with Glenn McGrath's 19 wickets costing 31 runs a piece.

Yet McGrath's figures are respectable compared to those of two of his heroes. Dennis Lillee's three wickets here cost him more than 100 runs each and Richard Hadlee's came at 44, more than double his career average.

Andrew Caddick was pulverised on England's 2000 tour of Pakistan but Flintoff and Harmison can take encouragement from the great West Indian fast bowlers of the last 25 years. Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Joel Garner and Ian Bishop, bowlers with similar attributes to the England pair, all took wickets here.

"This will be a different tour to others I have been on and I may have to modify my bowling," admitted Harmison. "There may be times when I have to do a containing job, and keep the pressure on for Ashley Giles, Shaun Udal or whoever is bowling at the other end.

"Our tactics will depend on the wickets we play on but we believe that we have the bowlers who can adapt to whatever is put in front of us."