England rely on Harmison and Panesar to finish off Pakistan

Click to follow
The Independent Online

England have been in this position before this summer. After comprehensively defeating Sri Lanka at Edgbaston in May, Andrew Flintoff's side travelled up the M1 to Nottingham believing the series was wrapped up. But a lacklustre performance at Trent Bridge and the brilliance of Muttiah Muralitharan changed all that and the series was tied.

Pakistan do not possess a match-winning bowler in the Muralitharan mould but England will need to produce a performance of similar quality to that at Old Trafford a week ago if they are to retain or increase their lead in the four-Test series. Pakistan were awful in the second Test, where they were trounced by an innings and 120 runs, but the mercurial nature of their cricket ensures that they are always a threat.

Andrew Strauss, the England captain, would have arrived in Leeds earlier this week in a far more upbeat mood than when he left the city a month ago. The sight of his bowlers conceding 324 runs in 37.3 overs, a flogging that took England to a humiliating 5-0 defeat by Sri Lanka in the one-day series, ensured that Saturday 1 July will be remembered for the wrong reasons.

But last week's win in Manchester, and the outstanding bowling of Stephen Harmison and Monty Panesar, has helped lift much of the gloom that descended on the England team during the first half of the summer. And what made it even more impressive was that it was achieved without Flintoff, the team's most influential player.

"The one-dayer against Sri Lanka here was a pretty bleak day," said Strauss. "But we can take a lot of heart and confidence from what went on at Old Trafford, where all the departments of our game were functioning pretty well.

"Winning a Test match without Fred [Flintoff] was important for us, too. By doing so we proved to ourselves and others that there is life without him. We hope that he is back soon but until then it is important that we can churn out victories without him. Andrew is a hugely influential figure for us both on and off the field and it was important that other players in the team took over his mantle, and I think the guys did that magnificently last week.

"I am always wary of the match that follows a performance like that because it is easy, psychologically, to take your foot off the gas a bit, and we need to address this and make sure it does not happen to us this week. Duncan Fletcher and I will highlight this before the match. We are in a good position and we have several guys who are confident and in form. We must not let that slip."

Fine hundreds by Alastair Cook and Ian Bell helped set up the victory but it was the bowling of Harmison and Panesar, who shared 19 wickets, that won the game. The character of the Headingley pitch is much different to that at Old Trafford but it still offers assistance to faster bowlers.

Yet, historically, it is not lanky pacemen or finger spinners who take wickets for England at this venue. Harmison claimed seven wickets against New Zealand in his only Test appearance here but, in the one-dayer against Sri Lanka here, he conceded 97 runs in 10 overs.

English spinners have had a miserable time here, taking just one wicket in the last decade. It is not a pitch that is devoid of hope though, as overseas slow bowlers have proved. The 17 wickets they have taken show that a good spinner, which Panesar is, can succeed. Panesar's biggest problem will be coming to terms with the slope on a ground he has yet to play a competitive game on.

Headingley has a pitch that notoriously helps English-style seamers who consistently pitch the ball in the business area. England, in Matthew Hoggard and Jonathan Lewis, have two such bowlers in their squad and it will be the decision on whether to play Sajid Mahmood or Lewis that will occupy the thoughts of the selectors this morning.

If Leeds is covered by cloud, Lewis has a chance of making his second Test appearance but should the sky be cloudless, Mahmood is likely to get the nod. If the weather is somewhere in between, the selectors, with one eye on the winter tour of Australia, will probably plump for Mahmood.

The decision would have raised its head during the 45 minutes Strauss spent chatting with Michael Vaughan yesterday on the Headingley outfield. Vaughan, on sponsored crutches, was warmly welcomed by the England players during his visit to the ground before visiting Wayne Morton for further physiotherapy on his right knee.

Vaughan informed Strauss that the pitches here this season have played far truer than in the past but it will still be an important toss to win. The dry, hard and slightly cracked surface should be good to bat on for at least the first two days but the bounce is likely to get uneven and unpredictable as the game progresses. It would therefore be a surprise to see the captain who wins the toss opt to bowl first.

Pakistan have a number of decisions to make following their impotent performance in the second Test. The finger injury to Imran Farhat, along with the decision to move Kamran Akmal back to seven, means that the tourists are no nearer to solving their opening problems. There is even talk of Shahid Afridi fulfilling the role.

Inzamam-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, will also consider changing the balance of his bowling attack, with Samiullah Niazi and Shahid Nazir putting pressure on Mohammad Sami. Pakistan will be hoping the series is still alive going in to the final Test, where they may be able to call on Shoaib Akhtar, who is playing club cricket in the Birmingham League for Berkswell today.

England (possible): A J Strauss (capt), M E Trescothick, A N Cook, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, I R Bell, C M W Read (wkt), S I Mahmood, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison, M S Panesar.

Pakistan (possible): Inzamam-ul-Haq (capt), Salman Butt, Shahid Afridi, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Faisal Iqbal, Kamran Akmal (wkt), Abdul Razzaq, Samiullah Niazi, Umar Gul, Danish Kaneria.

Weather, TV and pitch report

WEATHER IN LEEDS Cloudy. Spells of sunshine. Temp: 22C. Light breeze.

PITCH REPORT The wicket is dry, hard and cracked but is unlikely to offer the bowlers quite the same assistance as at Old Trafford. Bounce may become uneven and it should assist spin.

TV TIMES Live Sky Sports 1, 10.0; Highlights Five, 19.15