Mark Butcher: Strictly business makes this place a pleasure for the pure cricket tourist
Sunday 06 November 2005
The whole team were rightly praised and feted after beating Australia, but now they are back to doing what got them praised and feted in the first place: playing cricket. Other destinations - Australia, South Africa, India even - might have offered plenty of scope for the conquerors of the world champions to take their eye off the ball.
The different conditions and the different culture of Pakistan make it a great place to be for the business of cricket. Wherever you are in the subcontinent the practice sessions are much more intense. England can be sure of having some of the most detailed and precise practice they will have anywhere. Whether it will be how to play spinners out of the rough and combating reverse swing, the specificity of it will be all too real. England can be expected to play to their strengths, and you can therefore also expect to see a difference between this team and the one who won the series in Karachi five years ago.
In its way, England's last tour to Pakistan perfectly suited the style of the captain, Nasser Hussain. He won't be saying that under his leadership, England's first priority in Test matches was not to lose. It brought them some great victories, including the last-gasp effort in 2000. But that was Nasser's way; it is not Vaughan's.
Under Vaughan, England play a different brand of cricket. It is a brand that has seen them win series after series, culminating with the events of the summer. Their intention is to overpower the opposition through quick scoring and a top-class, all-round bowling attack. Now this might not be possible in Pakistan, simply because the pitches will not allow it.
England might therefore have to tailor their game, but do not expect it to be like it was under Nasser five years ago. Their batsmen, from Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss down, do not play like that. They might have to reclassify their objectives slightly, but that will mean going along at three an over, instead of one and a half. If players like Tres, Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen are going to score a hundred, they are not going to do it by scoring just one boundary, as Graham Thorpe did in Lahore. They simply aren't.
England will miss Simon Jones, no doubt about it. Pakistan is where reverse swing was invented, and he would have done well with the Kookaburra ball. But England still possess an extremely potent attack. I suspect that had Jones been fit, they might have been tempted to omit Matthew Hoggard from the starting XI.
Matthew has been an excellent member of this team, but in sub-continental conditions before he has tended to bowl a few overs with the new ball and hardly reappear. He might have missed out in Pakistan in favour of three seamers and two spinners. I still think that is the way the selectors will go, with Hoggard now retaining his place.
The second spinner to support Ashley Giles will presumably be Shaun Udal. That will mean Alex Loudon not playing. Loudon looks a good cricketer who is there to gain experience (and dismissed me with his wrong 'un late last summer), but it wouldn't seem to make much sense to pick a 36-year-old spinner in the squad and then leave him completely on the sidelines.
The one batting place over which there is a doubt is that of Ian Bell. I would expect him to play, but Paul Collingwood is waiting in the wings. He is the only possible replacement. When the squad was picked it was overloaded with seam bowlers, and still may be.
Pakistan always produce some wonderful cricketers, often ones of whom you have never heard, who come in, make an instant impact and after four or five matches are never heard of again. They have problems with their opening batsmen and do not quite know what their best attack is. I expect England to win, probably by 1-0.
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