England desperate to find some form in Pakistan grudge match
Friday 18 February 2011
Perhaps a lack of intensity was part of the problem for England during their uninspiring 16-run victory over Canada earlier this week. Well, there should be no shortage of either passion or full-blooded commitment in Fatullah today with Pakistan providing the opposition.
In football, it would be termed a friendly international. In cricket, it is called a World Cup warm-up game, which is probably for the best considering the less than cordial relations between these two countries in recent times.
The other 12 teams have completed their preparations, and all 14 captains lined up alongside one another at last night's opening ceremony in Dhaka. But with most attention now switching to tomorrow's first match of the tournament proper – between many people's favourites, India, and co-hosts Bangladesh – there is a bit of unfinished practice for England and Pakistan to squeeze in.
England won a five-match one-day series against Pakistan last September by a margin of 3-2. What most people remember, though, is the bad feeling between the two sides in the immediate aftermath of the spot-fixing storm that engulfed the tourists during the Lord's Test.
Andrew Strauss and his team were furious that their summer of triumph had been soured by events completely beyond their control – and anyone needing confirmation of their anger received it when Jonathan Trott and pace bowler Wahab Riaz clashed in the nets before the penultimate match of the one-day series.
Both teams are presently staying in the same Dhaka hotel, but have not been chatting about old times by all accounts. "We have not seen a huge amount of them in the hotel," said Stuart Broad. "We haven't been going out for dinner with them.
"Obviously it was a tough summer for us last year – all England players will say the same. We enjoyed playing the cricket but our wonderful summer of cricket was damaged. But you've got to move on. It is international sport and we've got a job to do."
Right now, that job is to suggest Wednesday's performance against Canada was a one-off so far as this World Cup campaign is concerned. Apart from Broad, who returned from his Ashes-wrecking side injury with a five-wicket haul and some aggressive lower-order batting, there was precious little to indicate England are anything other than the long shots most people believe them to be.
Kevin Pietersen's first attempt at an opening was a partial success, at best, and Canada – World Cup no-hopers – not only hit more boundaries than England but also threatened to pull off a remarkable victory.
England have argued that they had only been in Bangladesh for a few days and were still acclimatising to playing conditions different in just about every aspect to those they encountered in Australia while losing that one-day series 6-1. Today, though, there needs to be significant improvements in all departments.
Pakistan, as ever, are just about impossible to weigh up. They have sufficient talent – even without the banned Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir – to win this World Cup, and the capacity to self-destruct so completely that a first-round exit is not impossible.
On the evidence of their first warm-up game, though, the good Pakistan are in town. They trounced potential dark horses Bangladesh by 89 runs on Tuesday with the mercurial Abdul Razzaq taking three wickets after centuries from opener Ahmad Shahzad and Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq.
That was one of several impressive victories this week. No one, though, will enter the tournament in better heart than India, who defeated holders Australia by 38 runs and New Zealand, by a whopping 117 runs.
Sri Lanka have also looked good. And South Africa's supporters will feel entitled to predict a first ever World Cup triumph after the way their side performed against Australia – winning by seven wickets.
Few people, though, will be brave enough to write off the Aussies on the strength of two defeats in warm-up matches. And even fewer, perhaps, will want to talk up England's chances too much, regardless of how they perform today.
Some signs of encouragement would be handy, though, with Strauss's men facing a potential banana skin, in the shape of the Netherlands, in their opening match of the tournament on Tuesday. Thankfully, Graeme Swann, England's all-important spinner, will be available: his wife gave birth to their first child, 8lb 9oz Wilfred, yesterday.
England A J Strauss (captain), K P Pietersen, I J L Trott, P D Collingwood, M J Prior (wkt), M H Yardy, J C Tredwell, J M Anderson, S C J Broad, A Shahzad, R S Bopara
Pakistan (from) S Afridi (captain), M Hafeez, M ul-Haq, A Shafiq, Y Khan, U Akmal, A Shehzad, K Akmal (wkt), A Razzaq, A Rehman, W Riaz, S Ajmal, U Gul, S Akhtar, J Khan
Today, Fatullah, 8.30am
Umpires B Oxenford (Aus) & B Doctrove (WI)
Weather Expected to be warm and sunny, with a maximum temperature of 27C.
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