From boys to men in the middle

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The Independent Online
Those who anticipate sensation and acrimony now that the second cricket tourists of the summer have arrived are likely to be disappointed. It has become an unfortunate tradition for divisions to exist between Pakistan and England. They have spanned unnecessary and tasteless jibes about touring that part of the sub-continent; rows over umpires in both countries; and, most enduringly, allegations of ball-tampering. Both sides have been quick to try to seize the moral high ground as the wronged party.

This time it will be different. There will be no bitter committee room rows or suspicious public mutterings. Such confidence comes from two quarters. First, there is the strength of the relationship between the captains of both teams, Michael Atherton (assuming his reappointment) and Wasim Akram. They have been colleagues and friends at Lancashire for several years and are not likely to let a small thing like a hard-fought Test series interfere with that. Second, there is the Pakistan manager, Yawar Saeed. He is charming, courteous, urbane and positive. There is also a twinkle in his eye when he talks about cricket, which suggests that he knows it is important but that it is also only a game.

Watching the players he refers as to as "the boys" go easily through their motions at Trowbridge on Thursday in the first game of their tour against an NCA team, he said: "The past is another country which is in the distance. We are only interested in travelling in the present and the future. This series we are about to play will be hard and we will play it hard, but there will be no bitterness, none at all."

Yawar is liberal in his praise for England and its cricket. "I love it here, always have. It's the home of the game," he said. Between the ages of 18 and 21 he spent three years with Somerset, only the second Pakistani, after AH Kardar, to play county cricket, and has never forgotten those carefree Taunton summer days before he went home, and into the tobacco industry.

He is a managerial diplomat for sure, but anybody assuming that Yawar is a soft touch would be misjudging him. He knows he has inherited from the dismissed Intikhab Alam a well-balanced side with perhaps six world- class players. It will be among his prime tasks to ensure there is no repeat of the occasional lapses of temperament or morale which have undermined their progress to the top of the cricket world.

"The boys know what I expect in terms of discipline, and they know better than not to uphold that. But there is a lot of pressure on them today from the crowd, from the media - and they're young men. We've chatted about it and in the two weeks since we left home I can be sure this will be a well- adjusted party. They'll be too busy playing cricket for too much else. And we are ready."

As he said this Waqar Younis was coming on at the Trowbridge town end, following his captain, Wasim. Yawar said Waqar had fully recovered from the stress fractures of the back which have dogged his career, and was building up to full pace. He was almost casual in his assessment that Waqar and Wasim would be decisive in the series and that Mushtaq, the leg-spinner, would be equally potent.

"There aren't too many places available in the team. I think people know that and it would take something extraordinary to change the first five in the batting order and the four front-line bowlers." The main strategical worries for Pakistan will be whether to play six batsmen instead of five and when to select a second spinner. But they have cunningly and deliberately brought three untried cricketers to develop, Shahid Anwar, Shadab Kabir and yet another fast bowler of of huge potential, Shahid Nazir.

"There has been a great change in cricket in Pakistan since I played more than 40 years ago," said Yawar. "Then it was confined, if you like, to the middle classes. But it has spread and evolved, and so has our team. I wish England well but I fear you will lose."

Pakistan itinerary

29 Jun-1 Jul: v Glamorgan, Ponty- pridd; 3-5 v Somerset, Taunton; 6-8 v Northamptonshire, Northampton; 11 v Minor Counties XI, Stone; 14 v MCC, Shenley; 17-19 v Warwickshire, Edgbaston; 20-22 v Kent, Canterbury; 25-29 v England, First Test, Lord's. Aug: 1 v Scotland, Edinburgh; 3-5 v Durham, Chester-le-Street; 8-12 Second Test, Headingley; 14-16 v Leicestershire, Leicester, or v Sussex, Hove, depending on outcome of NatWest Trophy second round; 17-19 v Essex, Chelmsford; 22-26 Third Test, The Oval; 29 (reserve day 30) v England, First one-day international, Old Trafford; 31 (no reserve day) Second one-day international, Edgbaston. Sept: 1 Third one-day international, Trent Bridge.