England back the field and gamble the series

Simon O'Hagan finds Headingley's history challenges both sides this week
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The Independent Online
Headingley is the England cricket team's life raft: one storm- tossed summer after another, it seems, they cling to it in hope of salvation. And when they go there to meet Pakistan in the second Test, starting on Thursday, it will, as so often before, be a case of sink or swim.

Having lost at Lord's - the result in a three-Test series they desperately wanted to avoid - England have to go for the victory which would put their summer back on course and set things up enticingly, not to say dramatically, for the third Test at the Oval. Recent history suggests a draw is not an option - Leeds Tests have produced only one, against South Africa two years ago, since 1980.

The historic precedent England will keep in mind is 1982, when having beaten Pakistan at Edgbaston but lost to them at Lord's they won at Headingley to take the series 2-1. England also won when they needed to at Headingley on Pakistan's last visit, in the fourth Test of 1992. But having squared the series 1-1, they lost the fifth Test at the Oval.

The worrying fact from England's point of view is that they have generally made a disastrous fist of the many make-or-break situations at Headingley. Other than 1994 and 1992, there have been four occasions in the last 12 years when they have gone there knowing, as they do now, that defeat would cost them the series - in 1984 (v West Indies), 1986 (v India), 1988 (v West Indies) and 1993 (v Australia). They lost each time.

How can they prevent such an outcome again, let alone win the match? David Lloyd, the coach, and the captain Mike Atherton put on the brave faces they had to at Lord's, but the shattering way England lost nine second- innings wickets for 75 runs has given Pakistan an overwhelming psychological advantage.

"You give the Pakistanis a sniff and they've got bowlers to exploit it," Atherton said. In terms of winning the series, what England's opponents can scent now is more of a heady aroma.

The immediate thoughts of Lloyd, Atherton and the other selectors were dominated last week by the question of how England's batsmen should go about trying to stop Waqar and his comrade-in-destruction Mushtaq Ahmed. The relative comfort with which Atherton and Alec Stewart coped with them during their 154-run partnership provides some grounds for optimism, and had not Atherton played what he admitted was a poor shot to get out to Mushtaq when he did, England might have sailed serenely on to the draw.

None the less, once Mushtaq had removed Atherton and Stewart in a spell which represented the critical phase of the match, the havoc Waqar wreaked was somehow inevitable. And with his dismissal of Graeme Hick, Waqar provided the selectors with the starting point for their discussions, for the Worcestershire man surely cannot figure again for England this season.

The return of Nasser Hussain, if he is fit, would cover the Hick vacancy, while Lloyd's apparent acceptance of the need for six front-line batsmen against such a strong bowling attack could mean the return of John Crawley - a case not harmed by Mark Ealham's withdrawal with a rib injury yesterday. That would leave Jack Russell at No7, followed by the four quicker bowlers that are essential on Headingley's seaming wicket.

The identity of those may have involved even more debate than the batting. A fit Chris Lewis would have to be one, Dominic Cork another. But the claims of both Andrew Caddick and Darren Gough are gathering strength. It would be hard on the steadily improving Alan Mullally were he to lose his place; for Simon Brown, however, membership of the one-cap wonder club already looks assured.

On the basis that England almost certainly cannot win without bowling Pakistan out twice, the best gamble - and it would be a big one - might be to put all the responsibility for run- getting on a top five of Atherton, Nick Knight, Hussain, Graeme Thorpe and Stewart, play Russell at No 6 (perish the idea that has resurfaced of his handing the gloves back to Stewart), and field four pace bowlers plus England's best off-spinner, Peter Such, who might discomfit Pakistan's left-handers.

Of course there are flaws with this permutation, but there are with any. The fact is that Pakistan are a superior team and England need a lot going for them: the Duke balls that they prefer to the Reader; better umpiring; and above all, inspiration.

Probable squad: Atherton, Knight, Hussain, Thorpe, Stewart, Crawley,, Russell, Lewis, Cork, Gough, Mullally, Caddick.

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