England desperate to emphasise gulf in class

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The Independent Online
Giant-killing is not unknown up here on the north-west frontier of Pakistan. The hills around the town of Peshawar, where England play their next World Cup match against the United Arab Emirates, were a mujahedin stronghold. A launching pad for guerrilla raids that eventually saw off the might of the Russian Army that had invaded their Afghanistan homeland.

Last time England were here for a World Cup match, that war was still being waged and Peshawar was a mad, bad and dangerous place, fairly bristling with mercenaries, KGB, and CIA. A place seemingly awash with Kalashnikovs and carpets. On that occasion, England played Sri Lanka, winning comfortably, a feat they should - barring calamity on a titanic scale - accomplish against the UAE tomorrow.

Yet this is no ordinary side of hopefuls, united behind a single country or language. In fact the UAE comprises seven different countries, and while most of the side communicate in Urdu, their team consists of just two Gulf Arabs, one of whom, Sultan Zarawani, is also the captain.

The remainder come from those great sources of Gulf labour: Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. A composition that may count against them in future should the International Cricket Council pass a law requiring that at least seven of the team be nationals.

However, they were good enough to dispose of both Kenya and the Netherlands - the other two minor teams out here - to win the ICC Trophy, a feat that ensured them of their inclusion here.

It was a famous victory that brought the unusual knee-jerk response of a Mercedes all round for the players involved. A touch of overkill in the case of skipper Zarawani, who usually drives a Lamborghini, though never on the first day of a match, the boot being unable to accommodate the un-chic dimensions of his cricket case.

Other than that, there is one turf pitch - a very fine one in Sharjah (the others are matting or Astroturf) - while the average age of the Emirates team is over 30. Although currently without a coach, they were recently drilled by Madan Lal, the former Indian Test player, who maintains their strength lies in their batting. In particular, Vijay Mehra who hails from Delhi, and the right-hander Mazhar Hussain who comes from Lahore.

They also possess a useful all-rounder in Abeyratne Samarasekera, who allegedly fled to a banking job in the Gulf from Sri Lanka, for fear of reprisals against him and his policeman father by the Tamil Tigers, the group behind the car bomb in Colombo a fortnight ago.

The information England have on them is even sketchier, Atherton claiming to have flicked through "some literature the TCCB [Test and County Cricket Board] was sent on them". Raymond Illingworth, however, was more forthright saying: "We don't know anything about them.

"We were hoping to catch them on the telly," he said at the airport, hacked off at another 25 hours of travel to get from one point to another via a third further away from either. "But they were rained off on Thursday and we spent the next day travelling." England then, will be going into this match blind, something many will claim they have been doing in one- day cricket for some time.

In reality they have little to fear except from within. The pitches in Pakistan are conducive to strokeplay and are not the potential giant-killing surfaces, like some Indian pitches which are both slow in pace and low in bounce.

Unless the surface is very damp at the start, Atherton must bat first and ensure his batsmen regain some confidence, and the last thing England want should they win the toss is to be chasing a score of 210. Even on an off day, England should win by upwards of 80 runs, a feat borne out by South Africa's 169-run win against the UAE yesterday.

The squad, who practise today, will need to pay close attention to their fielding drills. The outfield at the stadium here is nowhere near as good as the one they found in Ahmedabad, and the fielding there was careless in the extreme, and cost them the match.