Pakistan are back in town. So cricket is played to the background noise of whistles and horns produced by a strong presence from Leicester's Pakistani community. For the tourists, however, the good news was not the support but the hot sun. What Bob Woolmer, Pakistan's Kentish coach, liked best about the day was the weather.
Leicestershire had, as is the custom, put out a weakened team, but Woolmer was not complaining: "All I'm interested in is getting some practice." When he won the toss, Younis Khan, deputising for Inzamam-ul-Haq, decided the bowlers needed the work. The pitch looked green on top, but Mohammad Asif, who played for Leicestershire last summer, advised that it was not as green as it looked.
This is one of Grace Road's low, slow tracks. The teams agreed beforehand that if declarations were necessary to make sure Pakistan batted and bowled twice in three days they would probably be made. The pitch made hard work for the bowlers for minimal rewards. Just what the coach ordered. Mohammad Sami had a to chance to show that he had recovered from a surfeit of no balls, which cost him his place in the team, and Umar Gul and Shahid Nazir began their struggle for the last place in the seam attack for the Tests.
Danish Kaneria, the tall leggie with a high action, who will bowl many overs this summer, experienced the frustration familiar to spin bowlers who think umpires don't understand them. Woolmer identifies Kaneria as one of the key figures of the Test series. The eventual result will, he says, be heavily influenced by the way England's batsmen play him.
For England, he suggests the influential figures will be Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard, backed up by Andrew Flintoff, when and if he plays. As for his own fast attack, which is without Shoaib Akhtar and possibly Naved-ul-Hasan (who will have a fitness test next week), Woolmer is anxious to see how well they exploit the Duke ball to get reverse swing. He believes all his seamers know how to bowl it, and if they forget, he has Waqar Younis, the bowling coach, to let them know how. As further insurance John Snow, an old pal of Woolmer's, has been brought along for two days to share his wisdom with the bowlers. "I rate his knowledge higher than anyone's," says Woolmer.
But it was hard work. By the middle of the afternoon Dinesh Mongia and John Sadler had put on 100 for the fourth home wicket. Both had been troubled fairly constantly, particularly by Kaneria, but Pakistan looked rusty, frankly, though this is not surprising after a 15-week rest.
But Sami bowled smoothly, if a bit short, and embarrassed Matthew Boyce, one of Leicestershire's three debutants, before having him caught routinely at second slip for a forgettable four. Hylton Ackerman became Gul's first wicket of the tour when he was caught at short leg for a duck, and Darren Robinson, having clouted some lose bowling for six fours, was bowled by the second spinner, Imran Farhat, for 34.
It was too early in the tour to reach judgements about individual players. What powers this team was not on display, and that, says Woolmer, is their faith. With the exception of Kaneria, who is a Hindu, all are practising Muslims who pray five times a day - starting at 3.30am. Being committed to their religion seems to make them more serious about their cricket. They will be a very hard nut to crack.Reuse content