Broad fires but England stopped in their tracks

Fast start for Strauss's men but docile pitch may be taste of things to come

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The Independent Online

England hit the ground running yesterday. Indeed they began at an unbridled gallop, all high fives, slapped backs and a touch of swing. As the first official day of their tour went on, however, they were reduced to a necessary trot.

They knew how much distance they had covered by the end as well. The team wore GPS tracking units for the first time and Stuart Broad, who started more briskly than anybody with three wickets in his first three overs, covered nearly 16 kilometres.

Rather than bowing down to the best team in the world before being quietly ushered out, the ICC Associates and Affiliates Combined XI, for it was they, put up some late-innings resistance of the kind that invariably needles superior opponents. Now, a score of 281 after being put in is neither feast nor famine. But it came from the decidedly unpromising positions of 10 for 3, 52 for 4 and 123 for 7. If they did not know it already, England therefore might suspect that the taking of wickets in the Test series starting in 10 days' time will be far from straightforward.

"The bowlers are pretty happy with bowling out the ICC XI for that," said Broad, returning to the side after injuring his shoulder in September. "The conditions have been great really because they're pretty similar to what we think we'll face in the Test matches. It would be no good coming here and having a wicket that seams every way and is not actually getting some miles in the legs.

"It didn't do loads but it did something and that's going to be crucial for us in the Test match series, using the new ball and the second new ball wisely. That period from 50 to 80 is going to be a real holding role I think.

"The bowling unit were aware of how hard it will be to take 20 wickets but today highlighted that. It's going to be attritional cricket, going at two and a half or three an over, fielding for long periods. Trying to bowl teams out for 300 to 350 but probably in 120 overs. It's old-style Test cricket."

England were severely delayed by the Namibian all-rounder, Christi Viljoen, who was born in South Africa and spends his summers playing club cricket in England. Averaging 15.87 in 23 previous first-class matches before his debut for the ICC AAC XI, he made 98 from 192 balls with 14 fours and a six, blocking for much of the time between.

Knowing how close he had come to a maiden hundred, he had virtuallyto be dragged from the pitch as his attempted cut, desperate to reach three figures, was well taken by Jimmy Anderson running from slip to third man.

Viljoen was joined in an unlikely ninth-wicket partnership of 95 by Boyd Rankin, the Ireland seam bowler with ambitions to play for England. Rankin also made his highest first-class score of 43, having previously peaked at 28 for Warwickshire.

Broad took the first three wickets to fall in a sizzling opening spell. Bowling at a fullish length, extracting some bounce, Broad had figures of three for four at one stage. Another Irishman, William Porterfield, attempting a shot to leg, and Kyle Coetzer, pushing off the back foot, were both caught behind.

The obliging wicketkeeper, swooping low to his right for the second opportunity, was not Matt Prior but Steve Davies. Reserve wicketkeepers in the modern era are supposed to spend entire tours either in the gym or carrying drinks but Prior bruised the third finger on his left hand during practice on Friday. England were taking no risks.

Between those snaffles, Broad bowled Paul Stirling and all was right with England's world. There followed some much-needed resistance beforeSaqib Ali, the UAE's finest via Multanin Pakistan, became the latest victim of Steve Finn's natural preponderance to take wickets.

The most alluring batting of the innings was provided by Mohammad Shahzad, the accomplished Afghanistan wicketkeeper/batsman, who made 50 at almost a run a ball with seven fours and always looked busy. He gave Anderson his first wicket of the tour when he drove to mid-on. At this point it looked as though the innings would be another unfettered triumph for England's quartet of bowlers. Sure, Graeme Swann had a liberty or two taken with him but he had also struck twice.

Then the ball and the pitch lost their spite together. The rest of the wickets did not simply tumble and it may have given some pause for thought in England's camp. The likelihood seems to be that they will start their Test campaign with the combination that has taken them to where they are, the No 1 ranked Test team. But their work will be cut out.

Broad and Anderson are certain starters as is Swann for whom the next three England tours will be signficant. But they all need more bowling under their belts in the next week or so. The identity of the third seamer is as yet uncertain: Finn is definitely in the frame but Tim Bresnan, whose elbow is still swollen after surgery, will not be discarded lightly and Chris Tremlett had become a fearsome proposition for any oppositionbefore he sustained a back injury last summer. England may yet need their strength in depth.