England allow bad habits to take root

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The Independent Online

If two regulation catches and some protracted head shakes over one or two umpiring decisions gave notice that Alec Stewart was almost back to his old self, England's bowlers must be close to panic, following a mediocre performance against a North-West Frontier Governor's XI. With just a week to go before the first Test, they looked ill at ease with the conditions, as well as themselves, a situation that needs to be rectified over the next few days.

If two regulation catches and some protracted head shakes over one or two umpiring decisions gave notice that Alec Stewart was almost back to his old self, England's bowlers must be close to panic, following a mediocre performance against a North-West Frontier Governor's XI. With just a week to go before the first Test, they looked ill at ease with the conditions, as well as themselves, a situation that needs to be rectified over the next few days.

The gun is dominant in these parts, but the aim of England's sharpshooters was not as precise as it should have been on a pitch with a hint of green in it. Yet sporadic waywardness was not the only problem, and the hosts' recovery from 113 for 5 to 173 for 5 at the close underlined the mental sloppiness that still afflicts England when their backs are not against the wall.

If one can understand players being inclined to go through the motions in familiar conditions, there was little excuse for it here yesterday. Before the tour Nasser Hussain said that his players would have to learn and adapt to conditions here quickly. But if there were times when this looked to be the case, such as in Craig White's first spell and Ashley Giles' initial overs, it was short-lived despite the retirement of the best batsman, Wajahatullah Wasti, after a Darren Gough bouncer had broken his hand.

The fielding, the most improved aspect of England's game under Duncan Fletcher was also indifferent, with Graeme Thorpe's spilled catch at third slip off Andy Caddick in the sixth over of the day setting the tone. In Test matches, England's cricket is not resourceful enough for them to bowl and field poorly on the same day and still stay in the game.

While inspiration is likely to prove elusive on grounds as empty as the one yesterday, this is a game that is meant to see players close to boiling point. Instead of trying to keep the bad habits at bay, they were allowed to run riot after morning rain had delayed the start by 90 minutes.

Apart from Wajahatullah, who retired at lunch, England had to wait until the afternoon to take their first wicket. The introduction of White, primarily to test his hamstring, proved successful when he had Imran Farhat taken by Stewart, after the left-hander tried to cut a ball that was neither short nor wide enough for the shot.

The wicket did not just belong to White and Hussain can also take credit for disturbing the batsman with a field change he had implemented just balls earlier. Placing himself within Imran's eyesight at short cover, his presence clearly made the batsman uneasy, a feeling Imran tried to purge with the wild slash that brought about his downfall.

Working up a fair lick on a two-paced pitch, White stemmed the early flow of runs and, in so doing, forced the batsmen into taking more risks against the bowler at the other end, in this case Andy Caddick.

Building pressure is what England bowlers have to perfect on surfaces that do not suit them. On this occasion, it was the talented but inexperienced Taufiq Umer who paid the price for a moment's rashness when he drove wildly at Caddick. Even experienced Test players do not like being pegged back by accurate bowling.

Unfortunately, this spell was the exception rather than the rule, though Giles' double strike in the first over after tea, followed by Gough's fortunate dismissal of Rashid Latif, adjudged caught at gully off bat and pad, clearly put England into a strong position to take a hold of this match.

Unless Hussain has a serious hankering to play two spinners in next week's Test, this match will mainly serve as a trial between Giles and Ian Salisbury as to which one gets the spinner's berth in Lahore.

Yesterday, Salisbury was the first to get a bowl and he might have had a wicket in his opening over. Stewart's histrionics suggested Yasir Hamid, who ended the day unbeaten on 56, had hit the ball. However, the wicketkeeper's extensive previous record in the nefarious art of trying it on left the umpire unmoved. But, if the wicket would have been handy, the good news for England is that Stewart's antics suggested that the numbing effects of last week's allegations that he had been paid money by an Indian bookmaker have just about worn off.

Sadly for Salisbury, who looked decidedly ring rusty, wickets proved elusive and it very much looks like Giles will be the number one choice if England decide to play a specialist spinner, though an all-seam attack is not entirely out of the equation.

In some ways, Giles will be the safe choice and, while Salisbury, on a purple day, might win you a Test, Giles will never take a hatful against decent batsmen unless the pitch disintegrates. Whichever one gets the nod next week will betray the boldness of England's thinking.

First day of four; England won toss

GOVERNOR'S XI - First innings

Wajahatullah Wasti retired hurt 0 Imran Farhat c Stewart b White .........42 Taufiq Umer c Stewart b Caddick .......15 Yasir Hameed not out ........................56 Nauman Ullah c Vaughan b Giles ........11 Akhtar Sarfraz c White b Giles 0 *ÿRashid Latif c Trescothick b Gough 6 Mohammad Hussain not out 34 Extras (lb2 nb7) 9 Total (for 5) 173

To bat: Sajid Shah, Kabir Khan, Kashif Raza.

Fall: 1-58 2-60 3-101 4-101 5-113.

Bowling (to date): Gough 15-3-33-1 (nb4); Caddick 12-1-37-1 (nb2); White 11-2-42-1; Trescothick 2-0-8-0 (nb1); Salisbury 9-1-30-0; Giles 7-4-21-2.

ENGLAND: M A Atherton, M G Trescothick, *N Hussain, M P Vaughan, ÿA J Stewart, G P Thorpe, C White, A F Giles, I G D Salisbury, A R Caddick, D Gough.

Umpires: Sajjad Asghar and Iqbal Butt.

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