England batsmen need to take a stand against spin

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The Independent Online

One-day internationals might be dismissed as the most elementary form of the game but they suddenly seemed mighty complicated in the Punjab last night. Lights, dew, flies and heat were all presented in evidence as potentially significant factors in resolving the third and decisive match between England and Pakistan.

One-day internationals might be dismissed as the most elementary form of the game but they suddenly seemed mighty complicated in the Punjab last night. Lights, dew, flies and heat were all presented in evidence as potentially significant factors in resolving the third and decisive match between England and Pakistan.

Combined or individually, however, none was likely to be as influential as the part to be played by Pakistan's spin bowling. If England continue to be all at sea against it, they will lose this game and many more this winter. It is as simple as that, and nothing that lights, dew, flies and heat can do will make the slightest difference. Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq and, since he took five wickets with fast leg spin in the last match on Friday, Shahid Afridi are waiting to pounce once more. If they are not repelled now, the siege will doubtless be sustained over the next six long weeks.

Alec Stewart, England's opener, who perished to his first ball of spin on Friday, essaying a slog sweep that missed the ball, was candid about the team's likely ensnarement yesterday. "They have two top-quality bowlers," he said. "We know how they bowl all right; it's working out how to play them that's the problem. You might be able to see which way the ball is going to turn. It's how much and how much it bounces that's difficult."

To which Mushtaq Ahmed replied a few hours later when he was informed of these concerns: "I will be happy if they think like that. I have a lot of experience playing county cricket and I have always taken a lot of wickets. The thing is, if you have got enough spinners you get a lot of pressure. We have a great chance to prove them right. The main thing is having three different kinds of bowler. You never can adjust, even when it's 50 overs."

This sounded ominous but Mushtaq, who looks to be back to his ripping best, graciously added some comforting words: "The good thing about England is that they're playing positive cricket and are in good form. We have to have the advantage playing at home and we have to prepare spin pitches."

The day-night game has already been brought forward two hours to noon (7am GMT) to diminish the effect of the heavy evening dew which resembles a thunderstorm over Manchester. But the final 15 overs will still make the ball uncommonly slippery, and batting second will be the favoured option for both sides. Insecticide has been sprayed over the ground to try to eradicate the flies which swarmed over Lahore and are likely to have millions of cousins here.

The quality of the lights is unknown -- this is the first floodlit international in Rawalpindi -- but they will probably resemble those in England more than those in Australia, which makes them more candle power than searchlight. As for the heat, at least it is cooler than in Karachi.

Stewart, the most orderly chap in the England side, was scathing about the arrangements. "It hasn't been good for the players or spectators come to that," he said. "I'm all for floodlit cricket but really you should only play under lights if it works, not just for the sake of it. Friday night in Lahore were the most uncomfortable conditions I have played in. The midges were diabolical.

"The bowlers tried wearing glasses to keep them out of their eyes but they still went in your mouth and they don't taste as nice as English flies. In the first match, their bowlers found it hard to grip the ball because of the dew. If you're going to stage these matches you have to make sure it works."

This does not mean that floodlit cricket here is to be killed in its infancy or that millions of rupees have been wasted on new lights here and in Karachi. Apparently, it is merely that the dates are wrong. The dew and flies are seasonal and this is their season, created by the juxtaposition of recent monsoons followed by searing heat. Matches should be played in December and January in future.

After all that, England had a side to pick. They were toying with the idea of including another batsman, probably Mark Alleyne. But if his talent for reading spin is no better than that of his colleagues it is pretty pointless.

ENGLAND (from): N Hussain (Essex, capt), M Trescothick (Somerset), A Stewart (Surrey, wkt), G Hick (Worcestershire), G Thorpe (Surrey), A Flintoff (Lancashire), C White (Yorkshire), M Ealham (Kent), A Giles (Warwickshire), A Caddick (Somerest), D Gough (Yorkshire), M Alleyne (Gloucestershire), V Solanki (Worcestershire).

PAKISTAN (from): Saeed Anwar, Salim Elahi, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Yousuf Youhana, Shahid Afridi, Moin Khan (capt & wkt), Abdur Razzaq, Azhar Mahmood, Wasim Akram, Saqlain Mushtaq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Waqar Younis.

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