England fear loss of injured White for opening Test

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The Independent Online

Nasser Hussain's men have reached Lahore with more wounded than a skirmish with the Afridi tribe from the Khyber Pass. In 1896, the Afridis pushed the British Army back to Peshawar, a fearless act that makes one shudder to think what all Pakistan might do to an England cricket team unable to pick from a full complement of fit players.

Nasser Hussain's men have reached Lahore with more wounded than a skirmish with the Afridi tribe from the Khyber Pass. In 1896, the Afridis pushed the British Army back to Peshawar, a fearless act that makes one shudder to think what all Pakistan might do to an England cricket team unable to pick from a full complement of fit players.

Four of the squad, Nasser Hussain, Dominic Cork, Craig White and Michael Vaughan all nursing injuries in ascending order of seriousness, with Hussain at the foot of the list.

Losing the captain for the first Test of a series would be a huge blow, but fortunately Hussain's back-ache, contrary to those reports suggesting it would end his career, is more the result of advancing years than dodgy vertebrae.

According to the team physiotherapist, Dean Conway, who expects the captain to play a full part in today's practice, the 32-year-old Hussain is simply "experiencing some discomfort when he plays the sweep shot".

Considering it is just about the only shot Hussain plays against the spinners here, perhaps Conway had better elevate the status of the skipper's injury to critical.

More serious, both in prognosis and team welfare, is White's hamstring strain. He has a like-for-like replacement in Cork, but the Derbyshire man is also injured with a strain to the left side of his back.

White has played in every game on tour and it appears that what began as a niggle has steadily got worse, though you would not have known it in the game just finished against the Governor's XI. For two brief spells, the Yorkshireman bowled with real pace and venom.

With two days before the first Test here in Lahore, Conway expects him to be fit, but will monitor him as "it will be a five-day game and we need to make sure he can get through it". If he cannot, the balance of England's team will be thrown and theireffectiveness compromised.

According to Aamir Sohail, a former Pakistan opener who was commentating on the recent match in Peshawar, the batsmen playing for the Governor's XI felt White to be the fastest bowler in England's attack. He certainly made the batsmen - to all intents those next in line for the Pakistan team - hop about on a placid track, something Cork simply is not quite quick enough to do.

But if England will definitely miss White's bowling, his more confident batting at No 7 is vital if England are to play a five-man bowling attack. He is also a must if they decide to play just one spinner in a four-pronged attack.

At present, the rumour is that the groundsman will prepare a raging turner which, if he does, will surely suit England more than a really docile pitch. In theory, spinning pitches require less bowlers, which means White could be replaced by a specialist batsman.

Secondly, it will close the gap between England's spinners and their Pakistan counterparts, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed, a distance that will be far greater on flat surfaces.

Mind you, if Vaughan remains unfit, England cannot play seven batsmen, which makes White's recovery a matter of national urgency. At the moment, Vaughan, who tweaked a calf muscle while batting on Saturday, is the least likely to be fit for Wednesday.

"Michael is about 70-30 percent against playing in the Test," Conway said yesterday. "His left calf is heavily strapped but we will continue to assess him after nets today."

Like White, Vaughan has been one of the finds of the last twelve months. If England were to play just six batsmen, the final place would probably be between him and Graeme Hick, who has yet to miss an overseas Test he has been available for (i.e. fit and on tour).

TOUR MATCH (Peshawar) Final day of four (Saturday): Governor's XI 224 and 170; England 315 (M E Trescothick 93, A J Stewart 59) and 80 for 2. England won by eight wickets.

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