Confident England are ready 'to mix it' with Pakistan

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The Independent Online

Fletcher will have his first opportunity to assess England's form and fitness today when all 14 squad members in attendance - Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison are due to arrive later this week - are due to be involved in the three-day warm-up fixture against a Patron's XI, starting in Rawalpindi.

However, he is already satisfied that even in the absence of the injured reverse-swing expert Simon Jones, the players at his disposal have the collective skill to adapt to all conditions.

Confusing reports from various cricketing sources in Pakistan have suggested first that pitches with more pace and bounce may be prepared, and then conversely that traditional low and slow subcontinental surfaces are likely. The inclusion of the veteran Mushtaq Ahmed as a second specialist wrist-spinner in Pakistan's 16-man squad for the first two Tests has thickened the plot a little more.

Yet none of this appears to be perturbing Fletcher, who said: "If the wickets are dry for spinners then our reverse-swing comes into play. We've got bases covered, which we never have had previously when we have come over here."

Fletcher admits that he is still grappling with a few selection questions - whether to throw the developing off-spinner Alex Loudon into a Test debut on his first tour, and whether Paul Collingwood or Ian Bell is his best back-up seamer.

Yet whoever takes the field for the first Test in Multan in two weeks, Fletcher believes they will be well-prepared and not lacking in confidence after beating Australia."We have to make sure we manage it so that they don't get over-confident and complacent about it. But it still has to be a good thing, because winning the Ashes like that - pretty comfortably, I thought, in the end - does give a team that confidence and self-belief. It makes us think we can mix it with the best. Pakistan are as good as any side and we feel confident we can mix it with them."

England's experience of facing the record-breaking leg-spinner Shane Warne in the Ashes - especially compared with how the Rest of the World fared against him in the recent Super Series - convinces Fletcher that the wiles of Mushtaq and Danish Kaneria will not be too much for his team. "I am very confident of them handling the spinners, based on how we saw the World XI struggle against Warne after we had played him as well, if not better, on wickets that turned just as much."

Fletcher insists that he is ruling no member of his squad in or out at this stage. But whoever makes the cut, their job is a clear one as Fletcher sets his sights on England's seventh successive Test series win. "We want to start winning from the first Test, set the marker down and take it from there," he said.