Hope springs eternal at Headingley, where the average English seamer or swinger can be made to feel just like a Wasim or a Waqar

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Cricket is not usually an easy game to predict. At Wisden, we are having an in-house prediction competition this summer - or rather two, one for each half of the season. In the first, no one got anything like half the questions right, even though the entrants included such luminaries as the editor of the Almanack and the bloke who brings the page proofs over from the printers.

But just occasionally things go exactly as you expect. Last week I wrote that Pakistan were firm favourites, in my book, to win the Lord's Test. As they were not favourites in William Hill's book, I put pounds 40 on them at 5-2. Any fool could see trouble looming for England.

Their biggest problem is that Pakistan are simply the better team. If you were choosing a composite Anglo-Pakistan XI, there would be some debate about the batting (Atherton, Thorpe, Saeed Anwar and Inzamam could be joined by any two from Stewart, Hussain, Ijaz and Salim Malik), but the bowling would be straightforward. Pakistan have two great bowlers and a very good (and still improving) one, plus the useful Ata-ur-Rehman; we have a very good one who is in danger of being worked into the ground, a fairly good one who is on the treatment table, a very tidy one who never takes more than three wickets, a leg-spinner who would probably do quite well if he could only bowl against England, and a couple of honest journeymen to make up the numbers.

Granted that Pakistan are the more gifted team, the question is whether the England selectors could have done any better with the resources at their disposal. The answer, I believe, is yes. It was a mistake to pick only 13 men in last week's squad, with two of them facing late fitness tests. It meant that Pakistan, as well as knowing that they would have the Reader ball (or rather about 10 of them) to bowl with, knew on the Wednesday what England's line-up would be.

It was a mistake to pick Simon Brown. England's makeshift attack was widely acclaimed for its variety, but in fact Brown made it less varied - being a swing bowler like Cork, and a left-armer like Mullally (with whom, significantly, he never bowled in tandem). Brown might have been the right pick if Atherton had won the curious toss for choice of ball; having lost it, he should have been able to call on Darren Gough, a reverse swinger and a man who thrives, just as all foreigners seem to, on playing at Lord's (two Tests there, 13 wickets).

So what now? The second Test is at Headingley, which gives England their best possible chance of bouncing back. It was there that they secured their one victory against Pakistan in 1992. It is there that the average English seamer or swinger can be made to feel like a Wasim or a Waqar. England's chief wicket- taker four years ago was Neil Mallender. The selectors should think about a one-off cap for Peter Hartley, Yorkshire's 36-year-old stalwart, who could then have the distinction of making his Test debut after appearing in an over-35 international in Sharjah.

They are more likely to plump for Gough, in place of Brown, though Gough has yet to turn home to advantage for England (two Tests at Headingley, three wickets). Chris Lewis must return; Ian Salisbury is unlikely to be needed; Mark Ealham, admirable but limited, should give way to a sixth batsman.

Poor old Hick has to go: he has neither the footwork, nor the mental strength, to keep out Waqar's stock ball. The selectors can decide later in August whether he is now a pariah or a Fairbrother, to be picked only for the one-day team.

So two batting places are up for grabs. One goes to Nasser Hussain, much missed at Lord's, and not just for his batting: England had no recognised cover fieldsman. For the other, the queue is headed by John Crawley, and he has to get a good run soon. But I would send for a batsman of greater experience and proven class, who has got runs against these bowlers before, and who is brave, gritty and good at shepherding the tail: Robin Smith.

Smith is perhaps the only England batsman to have acknowledged that the inswinging yorker demands a change in technique. Playing for Hampshire against Surrey in the 1991 NatWest Final, he dealt with Waqar by plunging forward and across his stumps. When the yorker arrived, he either clipped it away to leg, or missed it and survived because umpires don't give leg- befores when you are well forward and possibly outside the line. Smith made 78 and was man of the match. The following year in the Test series, he averaged 45, to Hick's 19.

A retrograde step? Yes: Crawley is much more likely to withstand the wiles of Warne next summer, but we can't always be thinking of Australia. Pakistan are big opponents, and somehow we have to beat them. The team with the best chance of doing so at Headingley, I believe, is this: Atherton, Knight, Hussain, Thorpe, Stewart, Smith, Russell, Lewis, Gough, Cork and Mullally.

Tim de Lisle is editor of 'Wisden Cricket Monthly'

Comments