Nasser's back to the wall

Countdown to the First Test: Injury worries for the England captain deflect attention from the war of words
Click to follow
The Independent Online

England fled the North West Frontier last night with their sledging credentials enhanced and three players, including the captain, doubtful for the First Test. They issued an insipid statement on the first issue, none of any description on the second and went off to regroup in Lahore.

England fled the North West Frontier last night with their sledging credentials enhanced and three players, including the captain, doubtful for the First Test. They issued an insipid statement on the first issue, none of any description on the second and went off to regroup in Lahore.

It was easy to overlook that they had beaten the Governor's XI by eight wickets, their second consecutive win and their first here since 1977. Little should be read into victories against makeshift invitational sides as a guideline for Test series, but England have traditionally come to this country and found victories harder to come by than bottles of Chardonnay.

Suddenly, they are pouring forth (the wins, not the wines) and at least that should not do England's state of mind any harm. Or it would not, if the state of their bodies was sound and if they could have avoided the bother over sledging.

Craig White, the all-rounder who has become a pivotal member of this side since his international career looked washed up a year ago, is suffering from a tight hamstring which has refused to loosen for several weeks. It stiffens after he has bowled four or five overs. It would be dangerous to gamble on that level of fitness in a Test match.

Michael Vaughan has a slightly strained calf. He looked frisky enough yesterday and should play. The most disconcerting absence would be that of Nasser Hussain, the captain, whose back is sore. This, in itself, does not sound especially worrisome, but he confirmed that it was in its worst state for six months. "I will be having plenty of treatment," he said.

Hussain has missed matches before since assuming the captaincy, and England won the last of those, at Lord's in the summer (by two wickets against West Indies when all had seemed lost - you may remember it). But they would miss him badly in the opening match of a series, a fact which has nothing to do with his poor form this year.

As for their sledging, there is nothing wrong with it. Unfortunately, Andrew Caddick's prolonged exhibition of it on Friday night after an appeal had been turned down eventually prompted a statement from England. This at least partially settled the rumours of what action was to be taken after the pace bowler was called in to see the match referee, Farukh Zaman.

"Andrew Caddick explained that there had been a misunderstanding between himself and the umpire and that he had been incorrectly quoted in newspaper reports," said the statement.

"As a matter of course the match referee will send a report to the Pakistan Cricket Board. The umpire has made no formal complaint against Andrew Caddick and the England team consider the matter closed." Ho hum.

This piece of obfuscation (what everybody wanted to know was what Caddick said to umpire Sajjad Asghar) omitted to say that he bowled extremely well. After having an appeal turned down on Friday night and sledging both batsman and umpire he was fast, accurate and achieved menacing bounce.

With any luck (and it will need plenty now) this match will be remembered for Caddick approaching peak form rather than for approaching the umpire with a swiftly-delivered verdict on Pakistan's status in the world.

He took a wicket with his second ball yesterday when Akhtar Sarfraz edged one low to Alec Stewart's left and walked when the catch was taken. Had he done the same the previous night when the nick was heard round the ground, Caddick's temper and the ensuing fuss would have been saved.

The Governor's XI went quickly afterwards without protest. The leg-spinner, Ian Salisbury, ended the innings with two wickets, both to Stewart stumpings. It was good to see, better to see him hit his length immediately, but too early to be excited yet.

The tourists needed 80 runs to win and lost the two openers in acquiring them. Marcus Trescothick touched an out-swinger behind and Michael Atherton thumped what was almost a long hop down point's throat. He stood awhile in disapproval of his own stroke.

Hussain, displaying no sign whatever of back pain, finished things with a flourish. England have never before won twice in a row in Pakistan. If they can make it three they will lead1-0 and have a firm grip on the Test series.

Comments