England's misery in Pakistan shows little sign of abating following a one-wicket defeat here in Lahore yesterday in the only warm-up before Saturday's first one-day international.
England rested Andrew Flintoff, Marcus Trescothick and Stephen Harmison, three of their most influential players, but the side which played should have been capable of beating a Pakistan A team containing five players with international experience.
It is the second time on the tour that England have lost to Pakistan A in Lahore, and they must hope that the five-match one-day series does not follow a similar route to the Tests. Even with their big guns England will need to improve markedly if they are to challenge a team who stand three places above them in the official world rankings.
Despite the defeat, which was sealed when Bazid Khan smashed the penultimate ball over extra cover for four, there were several encouraging performances from England. Matthew Prior gave proof of his ability to strike boundaries at the top of the order, Paul Collingwood continued his excellent form with the bat, and Liam Plunkett and James Anderson bowled with pace and purpose.
It was disappointing to see Anderson concede the winning runs because it was he who gave England the chance of pulling off an unlikely victory when he took three wickets in the 43rd over of this 45-over game. However, with six runs needed off the final three balls of the match, Bazid audaciously swept Anderson over the head of the England wicketkeeper, Geraint Jones, for four and then crashed Anderson through the covers.
"It was not ideal for us to lose - the warm-up game before the Test series showed that," said Andrew Strauss, England's stand-in captain. "But there were some positives, and it was great for some of the guys who have been sitting on the sidelines for a long time to get out there and have a run around."
Strauss was playing in his first game since returning to Pakistan after the birth of his first child and he did not have a particularly memorable debut day in charge. He scored only five runs, yet one feels this will not be the last time he captains England. Indeed, Strauss is the favourite to take over from Michael Vaughan when the current captain, out action with a knee injury, has had enough.
Strauss was the first England batsman to lose his wicket on a dewy, misty morning. Batting was difficult against the new ball and England were cautious to begin with. The absence of Trescothick gave Prior a chance to shine. Prior is a powerful striker of the ball, particularly through the off-side, and a high proportion of his boundaries flashed through the cover point area.
His 72 came off 84 balls but he does need to look for singles as well as boundaries. Prior's half-century contained 15 scoring shots and 41 dot balls - deliveries where a runs is not scored - and Vikram Solanki received only 25 of the 71 balls the pair faced during their 74-run partnership. Top players rotate the strike, a skill Prior needs to learn.
Collingwood's innings was the antithesis of Prior's. Collingwood is a busy batsman, who wastes very few deliveries, and his half-century contained nine fewer boundaries but came up off three fewer balls. Collingwood needed to consolidate following the quick loss of Solanki, Kevin Pietersen and Prior, and it was only because of his industry and late hitting that England posted a competitive total of 236 for 7.
Anderson struck in his second over, as did Plunkett, but England were never able to place Pakistan A under any real pressure. Collingwood bowled a good spell in the middle of the innings but England's spinners were again unable to offer control or wickets.
Pakistan A needed 22 runs of the final three overs with five wickets in hand and defeat looked certain for England. But Anderson claimed three wickets in five balls to set up a nailbiting finish and it should be enough to get him a game at the weekend.
"We were probably 15 to 20 runs short of the total we wanted," Strauss admitted. "It is something that comes with us not having played any one-day cricket for some time but we will be a stronger side on Saturday. In the next couple of days we need to practise hard, take the positive out of this game and make sure we are ready for Pakistan on Saturday morning."Reuse content