England's test of desire: The quest to be world's No 1 side begins

The Ashes winners face two fearsome foes this winter: Pakistan and complacency
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Yet despite reaching such a pinnacle Vaughan and Fletcher will be anxiously watching the approach of these same players over the coming days, as they begin their preparations for three tough Test matches against Pakistan. Since Vaughan became captain in July 2003 almost all of the 29 players used by England have shown the ambition and dedication needed to reach the top. But now, having achieved a lifetime's goal, the pair will be desperately looking to see whether the glory and adulation that followed England's Ashes victory has affected the attitude and desire of the team.

It has been difficult for some and impossible for others not to be distracted by the events that followed a remarkable summer. Little has been heard of several players, but their hibernation has more than been made up for by the actions and words of a few. Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen have never been out of the headlines, whether it be through cashing in on their success - in the guise of a hastily written book - playing in high-profile matches or being seen at all the trendy venues in town.

As the England captain, Vaughan, was bound to be quoted every time he opened his mouth, and Flintoff has already suggested that he has had enough of the limelight and would rather return to the days when he could innocently have a pint at his local in Preston. Pietersen, however, seems to be lapping it up and I had to laugh at an article in which he stated that he did not want to be looked upon as the David Beckham of cricket.

The picture that accompanied the piece had him showing off his tattoos, expensive jewellery and loud, lavish haircut. And a week later he was seen with Caprice, a former model, on his arm. England will be hoping that he tries just as hard not to score runs in Pakistan.

Fletcher and Vaughan will be happy to accommodate Pietersen's celebrity lifestyle as long as he continues to score runs, but it is my guess that he will be one of the first England players to get a kick up the backside.

England's success has been based around hard work, four or five world-class performers and a wonderful team ethic. That the players are a close knit unit who enjoy each other's company is clear to see from the sidelines, and if this remains the case they have an excellent chance of repeating their success of 2000, when they defeated Pakistan 1-0.

But it only takes a couple of ill-judged comments - Vaughan stating that he did not feel Flintoff would make a good England captain was not very smart - or a couple of players being seen to milk last summer's success for all they can, to change the dynamics of a team. And it is issues like these, no matter how trivial they may seem, along with complacency on the field, that the England hierarchy will be attempting to eradicate quickly should they appear.

Pakistan will offer Vaughan and Fletcher the ideal conditions from which to view the actions and reactions of their players. The tour will be a test both on and off the field. There will be no trendy bars, no glamour girls and no booze, unless of course you are prepared to sign a document stating that you are an alcoholic.

The Tests in Multan, Faisalabad and Lahore will be played on dusty, dry grounds in front of small crowds. After two days in Multan the scenes at the Oval and the words of "Jerusalem" will seem but a distant memory. The recent earthquake in northern Pakistan has taken attention away from security issues that could have affected the eight-week trip but the players are unlikely to venture far away from the team hotel, cricket grounds or departure lounges at airports.

On the field the cricket will be tough and England will miss Simon Jones hugely. During the summer he became a pivotal figure in Vaughan's attack, and England will be forced to change their game plan if James Anderson fails to impress in the two warm-up games before the first Test. Had Jones been fit England would have played the same side and used identical tactics to those employed successfully against Australia.

Anderson had a reasonable summer with Lancashire, taking 60 wickets in the County Championship, but England will probably prefer Shaun Udal's off-spin to Anderson's inconsistent swing. The pitches will play their part, and will be prepared to expose the areas where Pakistan feel England are vulnerable.

The surfaces do not suit an English-type seamer who consistently hits a good length, as I found out during a two-week visit to Lahore before the 1999 World Cup. I was bowling quite well at the time but instead of pushing well aimed deliveries to extra cover and mid-off for none, the wristy Pakistan batsmen kept flicking them through midwicket for three.

But this will not worry Vaughan, who has an attack containing bowlers with pace, bounce and - even without Jones - the ability to reverse-swing the ball. There will be a little line and length bowled, but it will not be long before fields are set for bouncers and reverse-swinging yorkers.

England's only problem is that Pakistan have a pace attack possessing similar attributes. Yes, it may not yet have the same class as England's, but it has plenty of potential. Mohammad Sami, Naved-ul-Hasan, Shabbir Ahmed, Umar Gul and Shoaib Akhtar - should he stop posing and start performing - offer Inzamam-ul-Haq almost as many options as Vaughan.

Yet in the spin department the hosts do have a distinct advantage. Danish Kaneria and Mushtaq Ahmed are leg-spinners out of the top drawer and it would be in England's interest to take Merlyn - the bowling machine England's batsmen used in the nets to imitate Shane Warne during the summer - to the subcontinent.

Ashley Giles should not be underestimated, he took 17 wickets here in three Tests in 2000, but the nature of the pitches will depend on whether Pakistan feel England are vulnerable against pace or spin.

One of the attractions of watching Pakistan play cricket is their unpredictability. When they get it right they are a joy to behold. Pakistan's cricketers are amongst the most naturally talented in the world and there is an energy, a passion about their play that few can match.

Yet when they get it wrong they are an absolute shambles. Their lack of coaching - or desire to listen to coaches - and selfish tendencies means their cricket can at times resemble that of a local park side.

It is not only the bowlers who England need to watch closely. Pakistan have a dangerous batting line-up. A middle order containing Inzamam, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yousuf needs to be treated with respect, and it will.

Pakistan's batting problems lie with their openers, who have failed to give a talented batting line-up the protection it needs, and England will be looking to attack here. Salman Butt and Yasir Hameed are capable players, but in the last eight Test matches Pakistan have used seven different opening combinations.

Despite England's Ashes success two players are in need of a good tour. Ian Bell posted a half-century in each innings at Old Trafford but he scored only six runs in the final two Test matches of the summer. Bell remains a class act, and England's selectors now have the confidence to back their judgement and give players a decent run before dropping them, but it will not be long before the ability of Paul Collingwood, Robert Key, Owais Shah or Ed Joyce begins to be mentioned.

Geraint Jones had a mixed summer. His contribution of 85 in a 177-run partnership with Flintoff at Trent Bridge helped England win a Test match, but he did miss too many catching chances in the series. Jones is exactly the sort of cricketer this England side wants but he needs to average more than he currently does - 29.74 - if his sloppy glovework is to be overlooked.

The flat, batting-friendly nature of the pitches in Pakistan mean that wicket-taking opportunities do not come around as often as in England, and every edge or stumping chance has to be taken. England start as favourites but they will need to be at their best if they are to put Australia's No 1 spot under further pressure.

Three to watch from Pakistan...

INZAMAM-UL-HAQ

Inzamam's attitude towards training and fitness are somewhat different to those of his opposite number, Michael Vaughan.

He does not lead by example until he has a bat in his hand. But what a player he is. Inzamam may look uninterested and unathletic in the field but there are few better sights in the game than him in full flow. Unlike Vaughan, Inzamam's batting has not been adversely affected by the responsibility of captaincy. He averages 58 since taking charge, against 50 overall.

DANISH KANERIA

Sami's pace and aggression made an immediate impression during Pakistan's one-day tour of England in 2003. In the third NatWest Challenge match Shoaib Akhtar and Sami provided Lord's with some of the fastest bowling the ground had ever seen. Sami is an archetypal Pakistan fast bowler, in that he attacks and bowls two lengths - very full or short. When he gets his reverse-swinging yorkers on target he is capable of devastation. When he does not he can go around the park.

DANISH KANERIA

Whether he is playing for Pakistan or Essex Kaneria is the bowler who bowls the most overs. Yet he appears to be thriving on the responsibility. In Pakistan's last eight Tests he has averaged 55 overs per game but he has also taken 45 wickets. His leg-spin is the biggest threat to England's success and after watching Michael Vaughan's side struggle against Shane Warne he is bound to be busy before Christmas.

...and two with a point to prove for England

JAMES ANDERSON

Simon Jones' injury has given Anderson an unexpected opportunity to push for a Test place. Anderson may not play even if he bowls well but he needs to impress or else the likes of Liam Plunkett, Chris Tremlett and Sajid Mahmood will leave him behind. A pretty good season for Lancashire suggests that he is moving in the right direction but Vaughan and Fletcher will be watching closely.

SHAUN UDAL

It is 10 years since Udal last toured with England, and he is unlucky not to have featured since. Yet to make his Test debut, he knows this winter will be his last chance. He will fight for the final spot in the side with Anderson and the warm-up matches before the first Test are crucial for both. Udal has been picked for his experience, and in the belief that he will not buckle if Pakistan's batsmen look to get after him.

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