Shahid's spin has England reeling

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The Independent Online

England 211-9 Pakistan 214-2 Pakistan win by 8 wickets

England 211-9 Pakistan 214-2 Pakistan win by 8 wickets

England have made it plain that they intend to over-react neither to victory nor defeat on this tour. In their dressing-room the old twin impostors will be given the cold shoulder.

This is probably the desirable approach since their crushing defeat by eight wickets with 34 balls left of the second one-day match against Pakistan yesterday, coming three days after one of their most heartening wins, would otherwise have provoked a severe bout of hand-wringing, soul searching, hair-tearing and probably towel throwing-in.

Barely 24 hours earlier the captain, Nasser Hussain, had observed that sometimes teams could be outplayed, lose heavily and that England would have poor performances in Pakistan. He did not perhaps have in mind that all three would follow quite so soon.

Much worse for the tourists, it was not only the defeat to which they must avoid over-reaction but the manner of it. England made 211 for 9 in their 50 overs and eight of their wickets fell to Pakistani's three spinners for 108 runs.

Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq were the usual suspects in the trio and the former, especially, bowled beautifully, with flight, bounce and turn. But they were both outdone by the 20-year-old leg spinning all-rounder Shahid Afridi, who took 5 for 40 and has a faster ball which threatens to push the speedometer off the scale before the winter is out.

Nasser Hussain, England's captain, said that it was no surprise to come to the sub-continent and be bowled out by spin. Sadly, he was not mistaken. "We've got to learn quickly," he said.

There may not be time. This was a grim message for England little more than a fortnight before the Test series begins and demonstrated that they probably continue to have a greater understanding of the Theory of Relativity than spin bowling. It could hardly be worse.

Maybe Alec Stewart had the Theory of Relativity on his mind when he played the good old slog-sweep shot to the first ball of spin in the match, a turning leg break from Mushtaq, and was stumped. Nor was Hussain absolved from blame for England's inadequate total after they were asked to bat. He was painfully ill at ease in his exchanges with the spinners, continuing his mission to sweep, sweep and sweep again in case he missed something the first time.

Before this tour is done he could appear at the wicket with a stiff-bristled broom. Hussain made 54 from 89 balls and, if his modus operandum of accumulation not acceleration could be justified, the manner of his dismissal, dancing down the pitch and swinging his bat as if he were scything a meadow - a peculiar thing to do since the pitch was grassless and the ball was turning - was less forgivable.

It left his colleagues stranded. England had recently lost their fourth wicket and now here they were gifting a fifth. In all, six wickets went for 27 runs in nine overs and England were sweating more than was absolutely necessary, even in these conditions, on using the full complement.

Hussain insists that he will continue to bat at No 3 in England's one-day side and if that is part of a long-term strategy so be it. But he might like to consider bringing the bat down vertically from time to time, if only so his bat sponsors can have their name read once in a while. Hussain is not alone but it sets a worrying example.

England could also profit from some flexibility in the order. Not in every match, because players must learn to adjust to the demands of a particular position. There was a case for moving up Andrew Flintoff yesterday.

They started confidently enough. Marcus Trescothick struck the seamers cleanly as he and Stewart put on 66 in 13 overs. He had scored 65 from 74 balls, his third one-day half century, and England were a satisfactory 116 for 1 when he hit Shahid to mid-wicket. The first reaction was that Saeed Anwar gathered the ball on the half-volley.

It took the third umpire four minutes to concur (after taking two to adjudicate on Stewart). In his room, Afzaal Ahmed was accompanied by the match referee, Barry Jarman, Mrs Jarman and several other officials. They were all desperate to give him advice. The best thing that could be said about the adjudications is that they were correct.

Pakistan won at a canter, benefiting from the advantage given once more to the batting side by heavy dew and the small target. Saeed batted briefly like the master he is and must have rather fancied collecting his 20th one-day hundred when he struck one in the air to square leg, where Graham Thorpe took the catch high to his right. Shahid, who was married only five days ago, was the only other wicket to fall.

The deciding match is at Rawalpindi on Monday. For England it matters less when they bat than how. If they did not know before, they know now that spin could wreck all their dreams.