Beware the dozing Inzamam and his team of all talents

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It is 24 years since Pakistan lost a Test series in England. Lots has happened while that run has been established: ball-tampering rows, umpiring ructions, crowd misbehaviour, general mistrust, followed by being all friends together again. When Pakistan are in town it is never quiet.

There is little to suggest that the 2006 tourists will not extend the unbeaten record beyond a quarter of a century. Pakistan have won three series in a row and have not lost for five. They had a reasonable break after beating Sri Lanka in early April but have prepared meticulously with a month-long training camp.

If they have had much the worst of their final match before the First Test against England A it may not mean much. Sri Lanka were cast aside by England A in April and steadily improved before becoming dominant. Pakistan are a far more complete side than Sri Lanka.

They have looked rusty these past three days, almost disinterested. But they have good cricketers in their ranks. They are ably led by Inzamam-ul-Haq, who not only looks svelte but also looks like their natural leader. Neither of those looked a possibility a few years ago.

Inzy was one of several Test certainties to fail yesterday as the tourists were dismissed 353 runs short of the home side's mountainous total. Indeed, the only two who made half-centuries are unlikely to play at Lord's.

England A did not enforce the follow-on, preferring to ignore the state of this match, deny Pakistan more batting in the middle and attempt to give Alastair Cook some batting practice. Pakistan mounted a mini-protest by putting on Salman Butt and Imran Farhat, part-time leg-spinners, who bowled five overs in the final 25 minutes. Farhat responded by bowling Robert Key. It is never quiet when Pakistan are in town.

There are two views of A matches. The home side may see it as a stepping stone to higher honours. The touring team, on the other hand, may see it as a gentle warm-up with no bearing whatever on the more severe assignments to follow, a point England tend to make when they are abroad and have sometimes followed to the letter by losing abjectly to the host country's second string and then winning the Test series.

If the former theory has a grain of truth then it is good news for Robert Key, whose century in England A's first innings was crafted with typical skill. He has also captained with some flair. Key is a class act, who was jettisoned too readily by England before. He, too, is also looking almost slender. It was difficult to tell which of the two captains in this match, Key or Inzamam, has shed more weight.

It is also good news for Jamie Dalrymple, who took 4 for 61 from 21 overs of controlled offspin. Through the virtue of sound discipline Dalrymple is forcing himself into the outskirts of the Test selectors' minds.

Should the latter theory hold water - and it probably does - then England could still be in big trouble. Pakistan are still hesitant about their opening pair, Farhat now having replaced Butt in selectorial affections. But their middle order is magnificent, and at No 7 they have a gem in wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal.

He has already scored four Test hundreds and is a wicketkeeper batsman of the sort Geraint Jones merely aspires to be. But Jones retains the selectors' faith after 30 successive Test matches. Chris Read therefore probably disproved the stepping-up theory for A players despite his powerful, often improvised 150 not out, which he raised with a six. Pakistan are not at full strength, with both Shoaib Akhtar and Rana Naved- ul-Hasan missing from at least the early Tests.

They are confident of their reserves, and Umar Gul has looked impressive here. The evidence is, however, that both Test sides may struggle to bowl the other out twice. England A made 595 for 9 declared, with Read and the highly impressive Stuart Broad - reminiscent of his father, Chris, with some of his upright driving - sharing an unbeaten 127 for the last wicket. The senior side may require a similar total at Lord's.

Tourists de Force: Pakistan's success story in England

1954 England 1 Pakistan 1

England paid for weakening their side in the final Test. Pakistan, on their first tour, rated as only average county strength, took full advantage. Fazal Mahmood took 12 for 99. A country was given belief it has never shed.

1971 England 0 Pakistan 1

Fresh from their Ashes triumph, England were feeling cocky. Nine hours of being stroked round Edgbaston by 23-year-old Zaheer Abbas, in his second Test, wiped the grins. He made a sublime 274, overshadowing the debut of Imran Khan.

1992 England 1 Pakistan 2

Acrimonious and gripping; amid rumpuses about ball tampering and umpiring, Wasim Akram (above) and Waqar Younis took 43 wickets and won the series with an awesome exhibition in the deciding Test.

Stephen Brenkley