Pakistan's acrimony gives cause for hope

Stephen Brenkley in Karachi reports on new rancour in the home camp

If England are clear second favourites this winter in all forms of the game, the confusion in the Pakistani camp may yet give them cause for optimism. On the other hand, they may as well run for cover now. If the Pakistanis are falling out among themselves somebody else is going to pay for it later.

If England are clear second favourites this winter in all forms of the game, the confusion in the Pakistani camp may yet give them cause for optimism. On the other hand, they may as well run for cover now. If the Pakistanis are falling out among themselves somebody else is going to pay for it later.

The past few days have seen a split between the squad's seven most senior players (who include the captain Moin Khan and the man who remains the spiritual leader, Wasim Akram) and the firebrand coach, Javed Miandad. This was superficially defused when the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Lt Gen Tauqir Zia intervened and gave his unequivocal backing to Javed while conceding that there were some cricketing differences.

Rumours of acrimony refuse to subside. The papers yesterday reported Moin's absence from squad training and implied there was a sinister motive. It turned out though that the captain was at a wedding, which he had been given permission to attend.

There is little doubt that relations between Javed and the seven are strained but communication has not ceased altogether. "They're talking all right," said one of the Pakistani contingent yesterday, "Gen Zia has backed Javed so the players have no alternative."

England's team for the first one-day international on Tuesday is already all but certain. The left-arm spinner, Ashley Giles, looks like being fit after his leg injury responded to treatment and he will take over from his replacement, Paul Grayson.

Andrew Flintoff will also play as a specialist batsman, although he will miss the Test series because of the recurring back injury which makes it impossible for him to bowl. His departure after the one-dayers is unquestionably a blow for England, who are desperate to nurture his rich promise.

Flintoff, a congenial man, a gentle giant indeed, was in almost philosophical mood yesterday as he contemplated a tour being cut short for the second consecutive winter. Last year in South Africa it was a stress fracture of the foot. Now the back has failed to improve after an 11th injection late last summer.

"I came away really confident," he said. "I was looking forward to batting, bowling, taking a full part. It was a big blow when my back was sore. It's been strange, it's been the case since I was 14. Bowling is the only thing that's brought it on and then after bowling I have struggled running and doing all sorts of other things." But the player known as Freddie wants to bowl. He knows that it will help to fulfil him as a cricketer and that it is the way he will most easily get picked for England. But nobody can tell him what is wrong.

"If there was a 99 per cent chance of an operation working I would consider it. But you know what it's like with backs, they can never say one way or the other. If I don't bowl I'm probably behind a lot of other people. It might be worth having a look changing my action. It's an awkward one."

Flintoff's disappointment shines through his rosy cheeks but if his back condition is congenital so is his sunny disposition. "If it comes to it I'll just have to bat. I might try a bit of off-spin. I'm sure I can get into the side as a batter - six, five, maybe even four." He deserves to bat at four this week in the one-dayers but the England management seem determined, even on pitches designed for heavy hitting, to persist with the captain, Nasser Hussain at number three. Flintoff, 22 years old and England's next all-rounder for two years, has achieved almost nothing in the game. He could yet conquer its highest mountains. He will be missed.

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