England's batsmen collectively breathed a sigh of relief yesterday when Pakistan's Rana Naved-ul-Hasan was ruled out of the Test series that starts on Thursday at Lord's. Naved-ul-Hasan has been battling to regain fitness after picking up a groin injury when playing for Sussex earlier in the season but yesterday he was told by a specialist that he would need surgery.
In the absence of Shoaib Akhtar, who is still recovering from a hairline fracture of the ankle, Naved-ul-Hasan had been expected to lead Pakistan's attack on their four-Test and five one-day match tour, but that responsibility has now been handed over to Mohammad Asif who is, himself, doubtful for the first Test.
The loss of Naved-ul-Hasan is a major blow for Pakistan because the fast bowler has had enormous success during two spells with Sussex. In 14 games the aggressive and occasionally devastating seamer has taken 88 wickets at an average of 18.
Zaheer Abbas, the Pakistan tour manager, said: "Rana's injury is a big disappointment for the Pakistan side, because he has bowled so well over here and he knows English conditions well." Naved-ul Hasan will be replaced by Samiullah Niazi, a 23-year-old left-arm seamer.
Naved-ul-Hasan's withdrawal brings the number of absent bowlers for the Test to seven. Andrew Flintoff, Simon Jones, Ashley Giles and James Anderson are out for England while Pakistan will be deprived of Shoaib, Naved-ul-Hasan and, possibly, Asif.
Flintoff is expected to return for the second Test at Old Trafford and Jones, whose chances of playing in the Ashes were rated as low after a knee operation in the United States, is now making noises that he may be fit for Australia.
The lack of quality bowling on show will not worry England's batsmen, and, in particular, Ian Bell, who makes his return to Test cricket. Bell played in all six of England's winter Test matches against Pakistan and India but was omitted from the side for Alastair Cook before the series against Sri Lanka.
England will not expect Bell to fulfil Flintoff's role but he will bat at six, the fifth different position he has occupied in a 15-Test career. But he is determined not to become labelled as a versatile, fill-in player. "I want to establish myself as one of England's top-order players," he said after scoring 124 runs batting at three in England A's four-day game against Pakistan.
"I don't want to be the guy who keeps moving up and down the order. I want to cement a place in the side and that will only come through scoring a lot of runs and batting consistently. Getting dropped was difficult to take, but it is pointless feeling sorry for yourself. You have to go away and score as many runs as possible to get your name back in the frame. I've got the chance to do this, this week, and I will treat the game as though it could be my last."Reuse content