Fletcher opts for positive spin as England crumble

England 126 & 256 Pakistan A 138 & 246-4

(Pakistan A win by 6 wickets)
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The Independent Online

In the days before captain Vaughan, this would be the moment to panic, the time to start writing off England's chances. The England team of the 1990s seldom recovered from a poor start when on tour. But times have changed, and the current England side is a far more stable outfit. Winning six consecutive Test series has given them confidence, and even when they are panicking they do not seem to show it.

It helps when you have been in this position before and managed to get it right when it counts, and you only have to look at the tour of South Africa last winter to see evidence of this. England, as they have been here, were very poor in the warm-up matches. They were pulverised by South Africa A in Potchefstroom in the final game before the first Test, yet a week later in Port Elizabeth they comfortably defeated their hosts by seven wickets.

Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, was keen to point this out as he attempted to put a positive spin on the team's build-up to Saturday's encounter.

"What has happened in this game is not ideal," he admitted. "We would have liked our batters to spend a few more overs out in the middle but it is similar to what happened in South Africa 12 months ago. We started like this but we went on to play some very good cricket and won the series. And knowing the quality of the players, we will be able to do it again." Fletcher accepted that some of the cricket played by England since their arrival had been lacklustre, but he was confident that the players would be able to switch on once the Tests started.

"Hopefully the guys will be able to lift the intensity and get it to what is required at Test match level," the coach said. "We have probably lacked a little bit of intensity here but they are the kind of players who realise how important each Test match is and I am sure they will play the cricket they are capable of playing on Saturday."

Prior to yesterday, England's likely Test bowlers had had a pretty decent time of it in Pakistan. With the exception of Flintoff, they had all taken wickets, and no opposing batsman had looked particularly comfortable against them.

But that changed as Pakistan A went in search of the 245 runs they needed for victory. Taufeeq Umar and Imran Farhat gave an indication of the home side's approach at the end of the second day when they smashed 31 off four overs, and this attitude continued on the final day. Farhat struck Stephen Harmison for three boundaries in his first over and Shahid Nazir, the nightwatchman, followed the example when he smashed 13 off Matthew Hoggard's second over.

The loss of Farhat, who retired hurt after being hit on the arm by Harmison, failed to discourage Shahid, who then pulled Flintoff for two fours and a six. Flintoff got his man, when a slower ball bowled Shahid on 43, but the sight of England's Ashes hero giving the batsman a send-off highlighted his frustration.

Flintoff picked up his second wicket four overs later when Faisal Athar gave him a return catch, and at that time England would have still believed they could win the game. Shahid Yousuf and Hasan Raza, however, had other ideas. Hasan clipped Flintoff - in Gordon Greenidge style, with his left leg in the air - over backward square-leg for six, before hitting Ashley Giles over his head for a similar amount.

These were fearless shots from a batsman who oozes class. Hasan is the youngest player ever to play Test cricket. He made his debut at the age of 14 years 227 days in October 1996, but he has not played a Test in three years. He is now 23 and as a member of Pakistan's Test squad has an outside chance of playing in Multan. Judging by the way in which he dealt with England's bowlers during his excellent 71, he has little to worry about.

England's two spinners had a decent spell but neither Giles nor Shaun Udal ever really looked like taking a wicket. The worry for England is that the quicker bowlers did not either, and by the end they had resorted to bowling bouncers. They all seemed short of ideas on a pitch that had more in it than the one on which they are likely to play at the weekend.

Scoreboard from Lahore

England won toss

England - First Innings 126 (Mohammad Asif 7-62).

Pakistan A - First Innings 138 (M J Hoggard 4-39).

England - Second Innings 256 (P D Collingwood 61, A J Strauss 56; Mansoor Amjad 5-97).

Pakistan A - Second Innings (Overnight: 31 for 1)

Imran Farhat not out 37

Shahid Nazir b Flintoff 43

Faisal Athar c and b Flintoff 8

Yousuf lbw b Flintoff 57

* Hasan Raza not out 71

Extras (lb6 nb9) 15

Total (for 4, 52.2 overs) 246

Fall: 1-27 2-98 3-103 4-232.

Did not bat: Mansoor Amjad, ÝAmin-ur-Rehman, Arshad Khan, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Khalil.

Bowling: Hoggard 8-1-50-1; Harmison 13-5-40-0; Flintoff 10.2-0-67-3; Giles 9-1-41-0; Udal 9-0-34-0; Collingwood 3-1-8-0.

Pakistan A won by six wickets

Umpires: Mian Aslam and Saleem Badar.