England will play the second Test match today on a building site. Indeed, it is difficult to know which is in greater turmoil, the Edgbaston ground which is half closed while the pavilion is being reconstructed, or the Pakistan team who are 1-0 down in the series and trying to rebuild some of their squad.
Compared to these two entities, the England team is an ocean of calm and tranquility and whatever their cautionary words about taking nothing for granted they must seriously fancy their chances of going further ahead. The Edgbaston pitch is unlikely to be as sporting as Trent Bridge's where England won by 354 runs last Sunday but Pakistan's resistance cannot be assured.
The tourists are uncertain whether to select Mohammad Yousuf who arrived yesterday after being summoned following the first Test defeat – though word from the camp last night suggested that Yousuf was jet-lagged and had withdrawn himself from contention. You can of course never be sure. If he is picked he will have had no opportunity for practise in England and has not had an innings in the middle for three months.
It is perhaps no way to run a cricket team but Pakistan might have thought they had no option given the rank inexperience of their middle order. Yousuf is 35, has scored 7,431 Test runs and 24 centuries. He had also retired in the wake of the disastrous tour of Australia last winter, riddled as it was with dressing-room tensions, which had prompted his indefinite suspension by the Pakistan Cricket Board.
It seemed last night that Kamran Akmal who was part of the problems on that tour had paid the price for a calamitous match in Nottingham with Zulqarnain Haider poised to receive a first cap.
For Salman Butt, the tender but thoughtful captain of Pakistan, these are times that will make him or break him. He was thrust into the role only after the sudden resignation of Shahid Afridi in the immediate aftermath of the heavy defeat by Australia at Lord's in the first of the neutral Tests.
So far, Butt has conducted himself with dignity despite being caught up in a maelstrom. Not only has he turbulent team affairs to contend with but cannot fail to have been touched by the flood in north-west Pakistan which has claimed more than 1,500 lives and left more than a million people homeless.
"No immediate families have been affected but faraway relatives might be," he said. "It is also the far-away relatives they do not tell the players on tour because they want them to focus on the job at hand. Pakistan is one nation, the way this game is followed, the keenness, it is the ultimate sport in Pakistan, whenever we do well the people are ecstatic and there is nothing more than they will want for us to win a Test match and we all know that."
And that is why it is essential that all the help possible is offered to ensure that Pakistan cricket survives, wherever it has to be played. It will, however, take leadership skills of Mandelaesque proportions to pull Pakistan out of this mess, although Butt claimed not to be concerned about Yousuf's advent after his apparent retirement.
"It doesn't concern me this kind of a decision," he said. "It has been done by other people, it doesn't involve me. I would love to have a guy with the most runs in Pakistan and the most hundreds scored by any Test batsman in Pakistan of anyone playing now and once he is there I definitely want to use his experience. But it will depend what state he is in because I don't want to be unfair to anyone. It is a professional outfit."
Presumably, he might get an argument on that sentiment, but there are plenty of precedents for unusual call- ups. England famously summoned the 40-year-old Colin Cowdrey from a Kentish winter to repel Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in Australia in late 1974 when their batting order resembled an emergency ward. A mere four days after arriving in the country, having not batted since the previous August, Cowdrey walked out at Perth and resisted for more than two hours in both innings, while making 22 and 41. It seems that Pakistan are not expecting Yousuf to something similar.
He scored three Test centuries on Pakistan's last England tour in 2006 and the odds must be on his playing, perhaps in place of Umar Amin. It would be a major surprise even by Pakistan standards of surprises if the 18-year-old leg spinner, Raza Hasan, who has been called up as a replacement for Danish Kaneria, were to be included.
Quite why Edgbaston was chosen for this match when there are no fewer than eight other Test venues in the country is difficult to justify. Money is probably at the root of it, the Warwickshire club needing a high-profile match or two to offset the redevelopment costs.
But they have been awarded eight days of international cricket this season while Durham, Cardiff and Southampton have been denied, and there was a Test in the Midlands, in Nottingham, only last week. This means that ticket sales, not surprisingly, are sluggish, and as one end of the ground consists only of the shell of a building the atmosphere will be muted. While 10,000 tickets have been sold for each of the first two days, the number drops to 5,000 and 2,500 on the third and fourth.
Edgbaston's traditional fancy-dress day tomorrow threatens not to be the oddball feast of colour it so frequently has been in the past decade. Perhaps fans could come as construction workers. The chances of the ground having the ambience of an international contest are slim. England can not bother themselves with such matters. They can, as they say, concentrate only on their own game and control the controllables.
"We've got no idea what happens in the Pakistan dressing room, who gets on with who and what decisions their selectors make," said the captain, Andrew Strauss. "That's not something that we need to be concerned about. What we need to worry about clearly is our own dressing room." Pakistan's bowlers remain a threat but England should win, Yousuf or no Yousuf, with something to spare.
England's probable line-up AJ Strauss (capt), AN Cook, IJL Trott, KP Pietersen, PD Collingwood, EJG Morgan, MJ Prior (wkt), GP Swann, SCJ Broad, JM Anderson, ST Finn.
Pakistan's probable line-up Salman Butt (capt), Imran Farhat, Azhar Ali, Mohammad Yousuf, Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal (wkt), Mohammad Aamer, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Asif.
Pitch report Likely to be a hard, true surface with plenty of runs but overhead conditions should offer bowlers something. Anderson will have reason to be encouraged.
Other details Umpires: SJ Davis (Aus), M Erasmus (SA). Weather: Cloudy, with light rain. Maximum temperature: 19C
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