While nothing they come up with would be more constructive than winning a toss, the debilitating long-term weaknesses in different parts of the right legs of captain Michael Vaughan and Ashley Giles clarified their difficulties yesterday. It was announced that Giles will definitely leave the tour after the Third Test, which starts here on Tuesday. He will miss the one-day series to have surgery on a hip cartilage.
No final decision has been taken on Vaughan, but he may also go home if his knee again causes trouble. That too will need an operation. Ian Blackwell, of Somerset, will replace Giles, thus surprisingly resuming an international career that looked to have been sacrificed on the altar of burgers and chips. It shows that these England selectors and coach Duncan Fletcher can forgive.
Ian Bell, already in the Test team, has been put on stand-by for Vaughan. Bell will probably stay but England would have no wish to announce at such a delicate time their captain's imminent departure.
Add this medical bulletin to the absence of Andrew Strauss, now back with his wife Ruth, who is due to give birth tomorrow, and the squad might be in some disarray. Not so, and nor would such a state be expected with such outwardly calm characters as Vaughan and Fletcher in charge.
But they are running out of opportunity. The later 10am start in Lahore, caused by early morning dew, means that the match will lose 150 minutes. There can be no time added at the end of the day because darkness will still descend at around 4.30pm. The over rate will remain sluggish.
England must choose an opener to replace Strauss. There are three options: Alastair Cook, the fledgling opener of boundless promise who came here as cover, Vaughan, whose best days as an England batsman were arguably as an opener, and Ian Bell, who has professed himself ready to step up from No 4 if asked.
The selectors - effectively Vaughan and Fletcher - claim still to be uncertain. It would be a surprise if Vaughan did not do the job, with Paul Collingwood asked to provide middle-order ballast. The probable scenario depends on Vaughan, who is still not moving as fluently as he might, definitely being fit.
A similar consideration must apply to composition of the bowling attack. Of the 39 Pakistani wickets to have fallen so far in the series only five have gone to the combined spinning efforts of Giles and Shaun Udal.
Giles has been out of sorts and his hip is the most obvious cause. England will be loathe to omit him at the Gaddafi Stadium because he has been so much part of their success and because Udal does not have the credentials to be a lone spinner.
Swing bowler Jimmy Anderson, the forgotten man of a tour for the third consecutive year, may be called upon as part of a four-man seam attack. Fletcher said he looked good in the nets, but the telling time would be in the middle.
It will take luck and fortitude for England to draw level and avoid losing their first series since being beaten in Sri Lanka in late 2003. Pakistan are in sanguine mood. They have to make none of the running. By next Saturday, England will probably have reason to regret fully their failure to make 198 to win the First Test.
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- Ashley Giles
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