England face trial of swing and spin

Hussain's bowlers must adapt to conditions fast if Test side are to prevail in Pakistan after 13-year absence

It is 13 years since England last played a Test series in Pakistan, a period that has caused a whole generation of players to miss out on a unique encounter, on and off the field. In that respect, familiarity will not breed contempt, and the current team are far more likely to experience the mother of all tours instead of, as Ian Botham once commented, a place to send the mother-in-law.

It is 13 years since England last played a Test series in Pakistan, a period that has caused a whole generation of players to miss out on a unique encounter, on and off the field. In that respect, familiarity will not breed contempt, and the current team are far more likely to experience the mother of all tours instead of, as Ian Botham once commented, a place to send the mother-in-law.

Results in Pakistan have been notoriously difficult to produce where England are concerned and will be again. In the 18 Tests played between the two countries in Pakistan, only three have been results: two to Pakistan and one to England, way back in 1962. The other 15 have all been draws and, at the National stadium in Karachi, the venue for the third Test, Pakistan have never lost a Test to anyone.

For Nasser Hussain's men, at least those staying on for the three Tests after the one-day series that begins in eight days' time, the adaptation process on largely unresponsive pitches, must be a quick one if they are not to go down in the first Test. On the two occasions that has happened in the past, Pakistan have twice won the series.

To know special skills are required in this part of the world, you only have to look at recent Pakistan teams. Since the time of Imran Khan in the 80s, when Pakistan stopped playing for draws and started to go for the jugular, the side has been filled with flair rather than stolidity, and invention rather than convention.

Among the bowlers, reverse-swingers have abounded, as have wrist-spinners. The current side has both of these, as well as Saqlain Mushtaq, an off-spinner who, freakishly, can make the ball skip away from right-handers off the pitch.

Confronted with dry, grassless, abrasive and low, skiddy bouncing pitches, Pakistani bowlers have found ways - not always strictly legal - of preventing batsmen from lording it over them. In fact, the discovery of reverse-swing, allegedly by the pace bowler Sarfraz Nawaz in the late 70s, could be seen as a classic example of man triumphing over his environment.

In Darren Gough, Craig White and Dominic Cork, England possess three such reversers. The skiddy nature of the wickets at the Test venues, Lahore, Faisalabad and Karachi, though, means batsmen will be looking to get on the front foot, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the swinging yorker so lethally employed by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.

Andrew Caddick, potentially less suited to these conditions, must use the new ball aggressively and accurately, for the shine will not last long. Although conventional swing and seam bowlers like Caddick have found wickets hard to come by in Pakistan (Dennis Lillee averaged over 100 with the ball in his few Tests there), Shaun Pollock's recent success in South Africa's series victory should bring hope.

The effectiveness of England's spinners, Ashley Giles and Ian Salisbury, is even less certain. Giles, apart from a suspect Achilles tendon, is a finger spinner who does not turn it much except out of the footholes. Salisbury, a wrist-spinner who can spin it, lacks control, especially over players who are well accustomed to his craft.

Unlike most teams, Pakistan tend to defend against the new ball, waiting to attack when, usually after about 30 overs, the ball begins to reverse. England's batsmen must be aware of this and make the most of the early overs, though Moin Khan, the latest captain, may counter by including a conventional swinger or a tearaway quickie like Shoaib Akhtar.

The latest runour is that a shoulder injury will keep Shoaib out of the series, though sightings of another young speedster, Abdul Semi, have been made; England's opening batsmen should beware.

Unlike previous England teams, the biggest threat to the batsmen will come not from the umpiring, but from the spinners. The 13-year hiatus between tours has cost England dear in this department and it would be most unusual, now that match fixing has been brought into the open by the Qayyum report, if all three Test venues do not suit the tweakers.

With Pakistan coming into being as a result of partition and, therefore, after the Raj era, cricket's Victorian codes did not trickle down as they had done elsewhere on the subcontinent. Umpiring, the supposed arbiter of fair play, was long held to be crooked in Pakistan. Even when the MCC toured there in the early 50s, some of the side saw fit to pour a bucket of water on the umpire Idris Baig, for what they saw as cheating.

Justified or not, prejudice is built and is passed down the generations. Indeed it was that, rather than any great wrong-doing at the time, which caused Mike Gatting to see red in Faisalabad in 1987 after the umpire Shakoor Rana, completely within his rights, held up play as the England captain brought up a fielder from square leg.

Gatting's reaction, a lot of effing, blinding and finger-jabbing, was not really directed at Shakoor, whose umpiring had been fine, but at the injustices of the previous Test in Lahore (in which umpire Shakeel Khan had fingered England to defeat).

Yesterday, it was announced that Shakeel has been appointed for England's opening warm-up match against a Governor's XI in Karachi on Friday and will be the TV umpire for the second Test in Faisalabad.

The strained relations makes this tour an important one, even before corruption and match-fixing began to unfurl. With the International Cricket Council due to reveal the recommendations of its Code of Conduct Commission regarding punishments in the Qayyum report, it will be an uneasy time for leading players like Wasim and Mushtaq Ahmed, who were fined in May.

England can win this series, though, with Pakistan more united than in the recent past, they are more likely to win friends. If both can be achieved - and it is an "if" as big as Kipling's Great Game itself - it will go down as one of the most successful tours ever undertaken. A fact that might even impress the mother-in-law.

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