England are set to make two changes to the side which defiantly hung on for a draw against Pakistan in the second Test, as they attempt to avoid a first series defeat in two years. Andrew Strauss's desire to attend the birth of his first child will instigate change at the top of the batting order, and the ineffectiveness of England's spinners could well lead to James Anderson playing his first Test in almost 10 months.
England, who are 1-0 down in the three-match series following their 22-run defeat in Multan, will miss the calming influence of Strauss even though he has scored only 44 runs in the first two Tests. His absence will mean that Michael Vaughan, Ian Bell, or even the rookie Essex opener Alastair Cook going in first at Lahore with Marcus Trescothick.
"We have discussed who will open the batting but we have not made a final decision," said Duncan Fletcher, the England coach. "There is no need to rush and there are a few options. One of them is Vaughan, one of them is Bell and the other is Cook. Cook has been very impressive, as has Liam Plunkett [the England fast bowler], but Cook is the real outside option.
"The favourites are the guys that have been playing out here. They know and appreciate what the wickets are like. There is a very good chance that Paul Collingwood will come in."
Vaughan must be the favourite to move up the order despite a chronic knee injury and indifferent form. It was as an opener that he established himself as a Test cricketer, and it is where he has played his best innings. Vaughan and Trescothick were automatic choices before the arrival of Strauss in May 2003, but the England captain selflessly moved down the order to accommodate a new star.
Vaughan has scored 10 of his 15 Test centuries when batting first, and his average there is 49.7. Yet while he has batted in England's middle order this has come down to 34.5. Bell has opened for Warwickshire but England would be asking a lot if they decided to send him to face Shoaib Akhtar when he is armed with the new ball.
Everybody expected the presence of Simon Jones in Pakistan to be missed, and he has been. Andrew Flintoff, Stephen Harmison and Matthew Hoggard have performed admirably but the spinners have had a dreadful time. The five wickets Ashley Giles and Shaun Udal have taken in the first two Tests have cost England 86 runs each. Along with the fact that it takes them 31 overs to take a wicket has led to calls for change.
"We definitely have to think about our bowling options," Fletcher admitted. "But it is still a big decision. I don't think anybody would have looked at the pitch in Faisalabad and said we didn't need to play two spinners. Pakistan did and they know the wickets better than us. You have to be very careful because you could have a wicket that looks just the same and it will turn. But we are definitely considering using one spinner and four seamers."
Giles has a hip problem and will return to England for surgery at the end of the Test series, but he will play ahead of the inexperienced Udal. Anderson is Udal's natural replacement but taking wickets here, after nearly a month of inactivity, is an unenviable task. The biggest challenge is conjuring up a plan which allows them to take 20 Pakistan wickets.