England may play safe for huge 'mental battle' with Pakistan

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The Independent Online

While their checked baggage this morning will not include the famous urn, which remains at Lord's, they travel with the status of Ashes winners. It is not, however, the weight of expectation, nor the security issues, which will be on the minds of Fletcher and his captain, Michael Vaughan, as they take their seats but the question of whether they should also leave behind their attacking approach.

The risk-taking cricket that beat Australia might not, the England captain conceded, work in the sub-continent. On England's last tour of Pakistan, in 2000, Nasser Hussain's side ground the hosts down before snatching a dramatic victory in the Karachi twilight in the third and final Test. But attritional cricket is alien to Vaughan's nature as well as that of several key players, notably Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen.

It is not, though, a stranger to Fletcher's thinking. The coach is yin to Vaughan's yang and his outlook may hold sway. "We don't know if we will be able to play the same aggressive cricket as in the summer," he said as the squad gathered at a Heathrow hotel.

"We will have to assess the situation and maybe adjust. We have a great mindset, but when you get out there and see the wickets are low and slow you might have to say, 'Hold on, we can't do that.'

"It will be a huge mental battle. The guys have shown they can handle most situations technically. It is the mental side. Patience might be required for certain periods of the game. But you still have to play to play as positively as the wicket allows you to. Sometimes the best form of defence is attack."

That will doubtless be the view taken by Pietersen and, to an extent, Flintoff who could both point out that even the slowest outfield does not affect a six-hit. Pietersen has not toured Pakistan, but Flintoff will be on his third trip, having first visited the country with the Under-19s.

"Conditions are totally different and playing there will be quite a challenge," Flintoff said. "The series will be as tough as the Ashes but the environment is superb. There is so much enthusiasm about the game. You can see so many kids playing in the streets."

Flintoff was talking in Dubai, where he is helping to raise funds for the Asia earthquake victims while en route back from playing in Australia. Like Steve Harmison, who also played for the World XI, he has been given a week's furlough and will join the England squad next week.

England will also be involved in fund-raising on the tour and Vaughan said: "Hopefully, an England team touring Pakistan can put a few smiles back on their faces because they are fanatical about cricket."

Further earth tremors remain a concern and the tour security officer, Sohail Khan, a senior Pakistani police official, said that an emergency evacuation procedure had been drawn up for the team. England had already taken precautions against a terrorist attack, including persuading the Pakistan authorities to move a Test from Karachi. Neither Vaughan nor Fletcher commented on the issue beyond saying they trusted the security experts.

These concerns and Pakistan's lack of western-style social attractions means the team will spend much of their time cooped up in hotels. In some teams a siege mentality can develop, but Vaughan said he felt the enforced togetherness would be a positive. "I've been on six or seven tours of the sub-continent and, for me, they have been the most enjoyable because you really do unite as a team," he said. "There is nothing else to do, no distractions to go out on your own like on tours of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand."

Vaughan may, however, duck out of this in December to attend the birth of his second child. He would not, he said, miss any international cricket but there is a gap between the three Tests, which start in Multan on 12 November, and the one-day internationals.

Personally, Vaughan has mixed memories of Pakistan. In 2000 a calf strain ruled him out of the series but he stayed with the squad. His most significant role at the time was, he said, helping to push the sightscreen as darkness gathered in Karachi.

However, simply being there was beneficial. "I watched a lot of cricket and picked up a few techniques on the kind of cricket required to win in Pakistan. It is very, very hard, tiring cricket."

Having won in 2000, England need to win again to maintain their world ranking points. Vaughan is confident they will. He added: "Expectation levels have been there for a couple of years and we have managed to meet every challenge."

* The India batsman Sachin Tendulkar is due to return to international action today against Sri Lanka in a one-day match in Nagpur. Tendulkar has been out for six months after surgery on his left elbow.