England inherit pressure of Gatting legacy

Another day, another one-dayer. Limited-overs internationals are impossible to escape from. Besmirched by scandal, castigated for tedium and dismissed as meaningless, they will continue to fill the calendar for as long as they fill grounds.

Another day, another one-dayer. Limited-overs internationals are impossible to escape from. Besmirched by scandal, castigated for tedium and dismissed as meaningless, they will continue to fill the calendar for as long as they fill grounds.

Not that England's 20th such match of the year, in the National stadium here tonight, will be much like those which preceded it. The six men in the team who experienced the Wanderers in Johannesburg earlier this year and thought that was raucous may reflect by some time this evening that it was like being in cloisters.

Captain Nasser Hussain had no doubt that the so-called Bullring would pale into a sea of tranquillity as he imagined stepping out in front of a crowd of 35,000, most of whom will be bearing a klaxon or something to beat on their seat.

"It is up to each individual to look within themselves," he said. "Would they rather be playing in front of 20 people at Derby say, or is this what we play for, to be at the highest level against the best team, the highest pressure. You won't be able to hear yourself think in the middle. But would they rather be here or back in their hotel room? It's up to each individual and by tonight we'll know."

A foretaste of the excitement and excitability that can be anticipated was provided yesterday outside the ground, which was being guarded by troops and armed police. Thousands of people without tickets for the match gathered - since there was no limit on the number anyone could buy, the touts acquired whole rows to sell at inflated prices and began running round advertising them loudly.

If it was not out of control it went beyond boisterousness. It was suggested that innocent, bemused bystanders moved along before teargas was unsheathed. Not many here believe that match-rigging never took place nor that some of their heroes were not at the root of it. Their passion is undimmed.

This is not then simply another one-dayer, the opening spat in another desultory series between two sides to satisfy television audiences. After what happened here 13 years ago between England and Pakistan, when a tour almost broke down amid claims of cheating and Mike Gatting poked umpire Shakoor Rana in the chest, it was never about to be less than the focus of the whole cricketing world.

There will be more when the Tests begin next month, but as Hussain observed: "They have been waiting for this moment." Pakistan coach Javed Miandad did not plump for obfuscation either: "When the boys were in Kenya they were thinking about this. It's been a long time." Moin Khan, the home captain, said it would be tough in one breath and that he was highly confident in another.

Whatever the reduced prestige of one-dayers (and they have always lacked allure to those who can see virtue only in the Test matches, as if they alone had the power to compel) England are in a paradoxical position. Of course there are too many of them, played with too little at stake in terms of money, kudos and intensity. Too little of anything but audiences and bookmakers.

Yet still England remain short of experience. Thanks to a Board which might like to think it was observing propriety but was simply forgetting to keep pace with the world, they are still playing catch-up.

Nobody was of a mind to disagree with Hussain when he suggested that Pakistan were favourites for the series. A look down the list of Pakistan's exhilarating batsmen, led by Saeed Anwar with Inzamam-ul-Haq not far behind, their breathtaking all-rounders, exemplified by Abdur Razzaq, with Azhar Mahmood on his shoulder, their great fast bowlers in the form of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis and their bewildering spinners as embodied by Saqlain Mushtaq and his compadre Mushtaq Ahmed, tells of serious danger for the tourists.

It is well known that Pakistan can be irresolute but, like England they have had a good few months. They want to beat England. They have not said as much, not in so many words, but they consider 13 years to be a long time. Their desire may be their undoing if things go wrong but Hussain was realistic. England were fifth in the one-day rankings, he said, and had to learn to beat sides above them, including Pakistan.

"We have to stay in the game for as long as we can. If we release pressure they will show us their virtues," he said. The trouble is that Pakistan may not need the release of England's pressure to demonstrate their virtues. Anything can happen in a one-dayer but tonight it probably won't.

PROBABLE ENGLAND XI (v Pakistan, Karachi, today): N Hussain (capt), A J Stewart (wkt), M E Trescothick, G A Hick, G P Thorpe, A Flintoff, C White, M A Ealham, A F Giles, A R Caddick, D Gough.

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