Flintoff recalled as injury crisis hurts England

First Test: Fitness problems may affect balance of tourists' side as they prepare for trial by Pakistan spinners
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The Independent Online

Now that the war of words has dried to a trickle, England have summoned their big gun to do their talking. Two weeks ago, Andrew Flintoff left Pakistan after the one-day series, apparently surplus to requirements.

Now that the war of words has dried to a trickle, England have summoned their big gun to do their talking. Two weeks ago, Andrew Flintoff left Pakistan after the one-day series, apparently surplus to requirements.

However, an injury to Michael Vaughan, yesterday saw the Lancashire all-rounder recalled with a very real chance of playing in the first Test, just 32 hours after landing in Lahore.

Vaughan, who pulled his calf chasing a ball in Peshawar last Saturday, has almost no chance of recovering in time for the first Test which begins in the Gaddafi stadium here tomorrow. The captain, Nasser Hussain, is expected to recover from his slight back strain after playing a full part in training, but with Dominic Cork already ruled out after breaking down in practice and Craig White still feeling his hamstring strain, the make-up of England's side - six batsmen or seven - will determine whether big Freddie goes for the long handle or a long kip.

At present the pitch, a mosaic of cracks without a blade of live grass on it, looks set to turn perhaps as early as the second day. If you can believe the whispers that pass for fact in these parts, Pakistan will use just two pace bowlers and four spinners (two of them spinning all-rounders), a balance that suggests that England should play both Ashley Giles and Ian Salisbury.

If this is the case and England select just four bowlers and seven batsmen, with Andy Caddick and Darren Gough as the pace men, then Flintoff must get a game. However, the most likely configuration, providing White is fit, will be to play six batsmen, with the Yorkshire all-rounder at seven, despite his susceptibility to high-quality spin.

Yesterday, Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, hinted that Flintoff's inclusion was unlikely, though the impression given was one of prudence (a 12-hour flight is hardly ideal preparation the day before a match) rather than unsuitability.

"If Vaughan doesn't play and another batter goes down injured, then Freddie has a good chance of playing," Fletcher said. "Although Nasser's back appears to be fine now, these injuries have come at the worse possible time for us on the eve of the first Test."

The irony of the situation is that Flintoff, who arrived late last night, should have remained with the squad after the one-day games. Indeed, his recall, in preference to John Crawley and Mark Ramprakash, the other batsmen considered, was due to him already having a feel for the pitches.

Although his inability to bowl due to injury does present problems to the balance of the side, Flintoff's scintillating 84 from just 59 balls in the first one-day match in Karachi served notice that he has the ability to dominate at the highest level.

Yesterday Fletcher said he would have liked to have kept him with the squad, but on a short tour, where it is difficult to find cricket for 16 let alone 17 players, it was felt prudent to have back-up for the bowlers rather than the batsmen. Which is why Alex Tudor, still without a ball in the middle all tour, took his place. Incredibly, if White is unfit, that first ball for Tudor could be in a Test match.

Injuries aside, England would rather the pitch turned than stayed flat. That way, their spinners will be brought into the match rather than taken out of it. If the pitch has been deliberately prepared to turn and, Fletcher felt it did not look a good batting surface, it could be due to a shift in focus for Pakistan cricket, from the reverse swing of Wasim Akram to the logicdefying spin of Saqlain Mushtaq.

Reverse swing could play a part in the outcome, but a lush outfield means the ball will not roughen as quickly as on some other grounds. In fact, Pakistan last won in Lahore in 1990, and overall, of the 30 Tests played here, 18 have been drawn.

England's brittleness against spin is their biggest worry. Led by Saqlain, Pakistan could have four spinners available with Mushtaq Ahmed, Shahid Afridi and the young middle-order batsman, Qaiser Abbas, all ready to back him up if picked.

It looks like overkill, but, with Abdur Razzaq likely to be the only other pace bowler apart from Wasim, the bulk of the overs will have to bowled by spin. Winning the toss will be important, especially for England, who must bat first despite rumours that the ball swings about for the first hour.

The key duels will be Saeed Anwar's strokeplay against England's opening bowlers, one that could be in marked contrast to England's more doughty offerings through Michael Atherton and Marcus Trescothick.

After that, it will be their spinners against the rest and England's against the powerplay of Inzamam-ul-Haq and the deft strokeplay of Yousuf Youhana.

This match, and for that matter this series, is not a foregone conclusion. England have the belief to do well, but how they deal with their last-minute injuries may be as important as how they cope with Pakistan's spinners.

ENGLAND SQUAD (probable): N Hussain (capt), M A Atherton, M E Trescothick, G P Thorpe, A J Stewart (wkt), G A Hick, C White, A F Giles, I D K Salisbury, A R Caddick, D Gough, A Flintoff.

PAKISTAN SQUAD (probable): Moin Khan (capt, wkt), Saeed Anwar, Shahid Afridi, Yousuf Youhana, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Qaiser Abbas, Saleem Elahi, Abdur Razzaq, Wasim Akram, Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq, Waqar Younis.

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