England look to batting specialists

SECOND TEST: Despite a lack of practice, Mike Atherton's team are ready to come out swinging at Headingley this morning
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The Independent Online
David Lloyd is a refreshingly innovative coach, but even he could not rescue England's practice session yesterday as the unlikely combination of rain and catering thwarted proceedings both outdoors and in.

With play in the second Test due to start this morning, any serious last- minute practice against bowling machines unleashing swinging yorkers had to be abandoned in favour of digging out wobbling chocolate mousses destined for today's corporate boxes.

As ever, Lloyd was quick to play down the fiasco of Yorkshire's indoor cricket school being given over to providing the food for corporate hospitality. "It's a world apart to go indoors at this time of the season," he said at yesterday's press conference. "It's a completely different game indoors that would only perhaps benefit the batters."

That may be true, but one can only imagine the eruptions had England been greeted with the same options on a tour of Pakistan. Wasim Akram, although clearly frustrated, admitted to being amazed to find the school full of catering. "Still," he added magnaminously, "it is the same for both sides." A parity England's masterplan of playing on a grassy pitch will be hoping to change.

Four years ago, England beat Pakistan at Headingley on a slow seaming pitch. Since then, the Test match surface has been relaid and England have yet to rediscover their winning ways, despite Atherton's assertion that this part of Yorkshire is still England friendly.

According to the groundsman, Andy Fogarty, today's strip was apparently destined to have pace and bounce, although its retreat under covers for the last two days has inevitably greened it up and slowed it down.

This probably means that England are almost certain to dispense with Ian Salisbury and Ronnie Irani and play four seamers - including Andy Caddick - and six specialist batsmen. It is a combination that has proved successful for England in the past, although it most famously backfired against Australia in 1989, when England's lack of bowling variety saw Australia run up a total in excess of 600.

If six batsmen play, Nick Knight will take up a new position at No 6, his left-handedness being seen as a foil to Waqar Younis, should the ball start to reverse swing in the middle of the innings - a phenomenon so devastating that England have been busy studying videotapes, and without revealing what they are, Atherton claims most of the batsmen have made small adjustments to their game.

Even so, England go into this match with five of their top six - Atherton, Alec Stewart, Graham Thorpe, John Crawley and Knight - not having played anything but one-day cricket since the end of the Lord's Test 10 days ago. Rest is a priority high on Lloyd's agenda, and rightly so, but the absence of any significant practice here because of the weather cannot have helped players to prepare for this match.

Pakistan have been similarly frustrated, but while England welcome back Nasser Hussain and Chris Lewis from injury, the visitors lose their vice- captain, Aamir Sohail, who has not yet recovered from the injury he received at Lord's. His place will probably be taken by Asif Mujtaba, a gritty left-hander who can bat anywhere, although it is the teenager Shadab Kabir who will open with Saeed Anwar.

Wasim, with the safety net of a win behind him, was upbeat and confident, joking that if what Lloyd had told him about the pitch was true - that it was the same colour as the green outfield - he may even have to drop Mushtaq Ahmed to play a fourth pace bowler.

There is a lot of balls talked about most sport, but never has so much discussion centered on selecting one - or, more accurately, tossing for one as the captains will do this morning before the main toss - as there has in England's current series against Pakistan.

Unlike most countries, England spoil their opponents with a choice of two cricket balls - Readers and Dukes. As has been widely reported, Pakistan prefer the Reader ball for its tendency to reverse swing as it wears, whereas England's bowlers choose Dukes for their better seam and propensity to swing in the conventional manner when new.

Unless both sides agree on one particular type of ball, they toss for it, as they did at Lord's where Wasim, the Reader ball and his Pakistan team all prevailed. A win treble which Atherton and England, with their brand of cricket, will be hoping to overturn over the next five days.

ENGLAND (from): M A Atherton (capt), A J Stewart, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, J P Crawley, N V Knight, C C Lewis, R C Russell (wkt), D G Cork, A R Caddick, A D Mullally, R C Irani, I D K Salisbury.

PAKISTAN (from): Shadab Kabir, Saeed Anwar, Ijaz Ahmed, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Salim Malik, Asif Mujtaba, Wasim Akram (capt), Rashid Latif (wkt), Mushtaq Ahmed, Waqar Younis, Ata-ur-Rehman, Saqlain Mushtaq, Mohammad Akram, Shahid Nazir.

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