A team placed below New Caledonia and Chad in Fifa's official world rankings gave England pause for thought last night before a rush of late goals allowed Wembley to relax in the knowledge that a third successive win in Group Six was secure. Fabio Capello's team could not score until the 51st minute, by which time he had brought on Shaun Wright-Phillips for Gareth Barry and changed the system to a 4-4-2 that enabled Wayne Rooney to sit alongside Emile Heskey but also gave the adventurous visitors room to play.
So after the glory that was Zagreb, the new era Capello hoped for ultimately featured David Beckham being wildly cheered as he slung over familiar crosses, while Ashley Cole was being booed for the crass error that gave Kazakhstan their goal. The manager could either be credited with making significant substitutions – which does appear to be one of his strengths – or faulted for not picking the right team and formation in the first place.
Before Wednesday's more demanding task away to Belarus, with or without Alexander Hleb, he must therefore once more go through the whole convoluted process of considering whether Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard can function together without Barry as a holding midfielder, and whether Rooney should be deployed wide on the left or played, as he prefers, off Heskey. John Terry, the injured captain, may return in Minsk, which would be welcome, as the defence had a number of uncomfortable moments in both halves.
"We played some moments a bit quick, that was the mistake," Capello said of a first half that also ended to mild booing; the near-capacity crowd were clearly not prepared to forfeit their right to make feelings known in time-honoured English fashion. He criticised them in turn for booing a man he twice called "Ashley Young". Of the half-time change, he said: "I decided to put Wright-Phillips on because we needed some speed on the left. Rooney then played nearer Heskey and he did very well."
In the end, Kazakhstan's youngsters simply ran out of steam and could not cope with substitutes like Beckham and Jermain Defoe. "I think we played a very good game," said their manager, the appropriately named Bernd Storck, who had picked a team of babies. He retained only four players from the last match, a 3-1 home defeat by Ukraine, and introduced a whole clutch of even lesser-known players from his Under-21 team. That meant four men making international debuts in the daunting surroundings of a stadium close to its 90,000 capacity, but they stood up well.
At half-time, bookmakers would have offered long odds on 5-1, England's early promise having quickly faded to the extent that goalkeeper Alexandr Mokin did not have a shot to save. He might have been given one almost from kick-off when Theo Walcott sped past Alexandr Kirov, a debutant left-back, and crossed along the ground but Heskey, sliding to the floor, could not force the ball past his marker Alexandr Kislitsyn.
Matthew Upson, standing in for Terry and coming forward for set-pieces, twice headed them over the bar and Lampard, making his first characteristic Chelsea-style burst forward, had a shot blocked after being set up by Rooney. Kazakhstan, however, made it clear that they were by no means as timidly negative as some of the visitors England have faced in international competition.
Twice before a quarter of an hour had been played, they caused concern, albeit with attacks abetted each time by some lax defending. Cole allowed Tanat Nusserbayev inside him to shoot wide of the far post and when the same forward infiltrated the left-hand side, David James hastily cleared Upson's equally hurried back-pass straight at the head of visiting captain Rulsan Baltiyev, from where the ball flew wide.
As the half wore on, chances became fewer. Walcott cut inside and shot too high with his left foot; Lampard had one shot deflected and hit another just too high; but by the time Rooney went into the centre seeking some action and put his effort wide, he was not the only one present whose frustration was showing.
The crowd's dissatisfaction would have been redoubled had Kazakhstan not wasted a wonderful chance to score within two minutes of the resumption. Cole was AWOL as the right midfielder Sabrykhan Ibrayev burst into empty space and crossed high. Seregey Ostapenko, the tall centre-forward, nudged the ball down and Nusserbayev hit it horribly high.
How costly that was likely to prove was illustrated four minutes later. Wright-Phillips, cutting in from the left, forced a corner that Lampard swung over. The goalkeeper was blocked off by a combination of his own defenders and Upson, leaving Rio Ferdinand the easiest of tasks to head only his third England goal in 71 games. There were two more nasty moments before the second goal. Nusserbayev hit a fine drive that James pushed unconvincingly for a corner and the same player might have won a penalty had he gone down after being clipped by Wes Brown.
In the 63rd minute the unfortunate Alexandr Kuchma nodded Lampard's free-kick past his own goalkeeper but only four minutes later Cole played the loosest of passes towards Ferdinand, found Zhambyl Kukeyev instead, and the finish was immaculate.
The Kazakhs briefly sensed a sensation but their vulnerability to crosses ended that hope. Rooney soon headed in Brown's centre and then scrambled in a free-kick from Beckham, who had come on to great acclaim. Four-one was harsh; five was ridiculous but Defoe, another substitute, ran on to Heskey's pass to do what he does best. The scoreline had reached absurdly flattering proportions. A strange evening altogether.
David James 6/10
Another quiet day out at Wembley for the Portsmouth goalkeeper. Tested slightly more than against Andorra, and in the second period he had to save well to his left shortly after England had taken the lead. Had no chance with Kazakhstan's goal.
Wes Brown 7/10
Preferred again to Glen Johnson at right-back and defensively acquitted himself well. Was as committed to attack as the strength of the opposition demanded. In the first half he supported Walcott, but seemed to do so less often as the minutes passed until, with the opposition tiring, he crossed for England's third.
Rio Ferdinand 8/10
The England captain, dominant in the centre of defence and influential as a springboard for attacks, distributed the ball as well as ever. A calming presence throughout, and as a danger at England corners proved his potency with a firm header at the far post to give England the lead, albeit assisted by the Kazakh-stan goalkeeper's error.
Matthew Upson 6/10
In for the injured John Terry, took some time to settle and seemed nervous on occasions. But his defensive work improved after the break. Was a dangerous threat at England corners, one header drifting narrowly wide.
Ashley Cole 5/10
The left-back had the freedom of his flank and in the first half attacked with energy. Defensively, questions remained, and he presented the opposition with a gilt-edged chance to score which was accepted with composure.
Gareth Barry 6/10
Ostensibly the holding midfielder, Barry played with the confidence of a player in form, but at half-time was deemed one central midfielder too many and Shaun Wright-Phillips replaced him.
Steven Gerrard 7/10
The jury on the Gerrard- Lampard midfield pairing has been out for so long as to be reported missing. This match did little to settle the argument. Hit his Liverpool form only in patches, and a bungled corner routine with Lampard summed up the continuing hit-and-miss nature of this relationship, which a 5-1 scoreline cannot obliterate.
Frank Lampard 8/10
As strong between the penalty areas as ever, and his dead- ball deliveries provided England's first two goals. His shooting, though, was less accurate. Worked hard to create in the crowded areas around the Kazakh goal, and tackled back energetically.
Theo Walcott 7/10
It was always unlikely that the young winger (pictured) would reprise his heroics against Croatia in the very next competitive international, but in the opening minutes he sped free on the right and crossed for Heskey, who almost scored. Was less influential thereafter, butsaw too little of the ball.
Wayne Rooney 7/10
Though not at his explosive best, the striker still had too much powder for the Kazakh-stan defence. Drew an own goal from the defence, nodded in a Wes Brown cross then added England's fourth.
Emile Heskey 7/10
As England's target man, gave the Kazakh defence a trying evening, and his all-out effort deserved a goal.
Shaun Wright-Phillips (6) on at half-time. Started brightly but faded. Beckham (7) on late but crossed for Rooney's second. Defoe (7) on even later, and scored from Heskey's flick.
Referee: Paul Allaerts (Belgium)
Man of the match: Rooney
Match rating: 7/10