Neale picks a way through the pitfalls

Respect becomes the new buzzword as England's tour to rebuild the bridges is put in diplomatic hands

Remember the name. It has been barely mentioned so far on England's tour of Pakistan and its owner has had a profile lower than the water levels in Karachi. Since the city's hydrants were down to their last two inches on Friday and trucks from the General Public Water Tanker Service were doing their best to form an orderly queue for a few teaspoonfuls of liquid gold, it can be safely said that Phil Neale has not been around much. Yet.

Remember the name. It has been barely mentioned so far on England's tour of Pakistan and its owner has had a profile lower than the water levels in Karachi. Since the city's hydrants were down to their last two inches on Friday and trucks from the General Public Water Tanker Service were doing their best to form an orderly queue for a few teaspoonfuls of liquid gold, it can be safely said that Phil Neale has not been around much. Yet.

If this is still so when the team set out for home after three one-day matches and three Test matches in mid-December, England's operations manager will have had not only an unruffled tour but a unique one. Precedent suggests that for all the abundant goodwill shown and reciprocated in the first week Neale may well confront a thicker forest of notebooks and a brighter glare of cameras than he ever experienced in his days as a middle-order batsman for Worcestershire and a left-back for Lincoln City.

England tours to Pakistan have usually been like that. This is only the seventh, and men like Les Ames, A C Smith and Peter Lush, predecessors of Neale, had their diplomatic skills tested to the limits. If it wasn't civil unrest and riots off the field it was suspicion and whingeing about the umpiring on it. England were not always right and neither were their managers.

Neale, whose placidity would be uncommon even if he had not spent 10 years and 327 matches as a defender in the lower divisions of the Football League in between scoring nearly 17,000 first-class runs and ably leading Worcestershire to six trophies, is sanguine going on serene. "I have found that if you're just civil with people and show respect - and everybody I've come across wants England here - it can make a difference. If you don't go looking for problems then quite often they're not there.

"The biggest word is respect, for culture, for religious beliefs, for some things we might find strange. Don't laugh at what we might consider to be people's idiosyncrasies but just accept that that's the way they are, their customs. Everybody is desperate for it go well and we have to behave in the right sort of way and accept local hospitality."

All this should be grist to the mill of touring teams everywhere, but Neale is aware of its particular importance here. Thirteen years ago, the tour was split asunder by a storm about umpiring. Its climax, a finger-wagging, chest-prodding argument between England's captain, Mike Gatting, and the Pakistani umpire Shakoor Rana created a schism which is only now being healed.

England's journey truly begins only on Tuesday with the first of the one-dayers, which will also witness the international inauguration of the floodlights at the National Stadium. It will be a full house - the black market was already in evidence yesterday - and every observer from the match referee down will be watching for the slightest sign of match-fixing. Sadly, that is the way of it now.

On their last, ill-fated tour, England won 3-0 in a desultory series played immediately after the World Cup. If they do so this time there will be cause for genuine revelry, accompanied, among the sceptical, by some eyebrow-raising.

If respect is the biggest word in Neale's canon at present, then preparation is not far behind. The suspicion is that 10 days on these superb batting pitches after a gap of 13 years may not be enough in the playing sense. But England can prepare for the umpiring and will do so.

"Umpiring everywhere has been helped by the advent of one official from a neutral country for all Test matches and a match referee for all international matches," said Neale. "But there are still different interpretations around the world and this will probably crop up in the briefing between umpires and captains at the start of the series.

"It is mostly standardised now but in different countries there are slightly different intepretations of the lbw law, for instance. When we were in India on an A tour, the umpires were generous towards batsmen on the front foot and generous towards bowlers on the back foot. That's their way of doing things and either you react to it and say that's not fair or make some minor adjustments to fit in. Take the sweep, for instance - that can be given out in some places, others just ignore it. That's the benefit of practice matches. Prepare for these things."

Neale, still enjoyably active in England's nets, not least as chief thrower down to Alec Stewart who superstitiously insists on his services, has been to Pakistan before, as coach to the Under-19 side in 1996-97. That was one of several exploratory visits since the ructions to see if full relations could be repaired. It went like a dream. The squad spent Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve at the home of Wasim Akram's father.

As for the umpiring, so long contentious in English eyes: "Shakoor Rana stood in quite a lot of our games. He was extremely courteous and had the best rapport with the players of anybody. Everybody has to start with a clean bill of health."

Recent tours to Pakistan by other countries have gone smoothly, but this is England. There is a mild risk of civil unrest and the team have an armed guard when they leave the hotel. But it will not be like the tour of 1968-69, when every match was disturbed and England went heroically on in the charge of their wise manager, Ames. A C Smith, in 1983-84, failed gallantly to cover himself in glory in dealing with an England side tired from a beating in New Zealand, and Lush last time was thrown into an unknown world. It was a mess all round.

This is a different country with different ways. There are splits in the Pakistani team which could easily burgeon. "It's over our heads," said this tour's manager. "I wouldn't want us to be seen as not thinking deeply about the tour and not giving it every consideration possible. But there are some things you can't effect and you've just got to let them pass you by." The name is Neale, Phil Neale.

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