England v Pakistan, 1st nPower Test, Trent Bridge July 28, 2010

England focus on the task at hand


It's never dull when the Pakistanis are in town. While the team was tearing itself apart during a dreadful tour of Australia six months ago, there was a legitimate fear that this coming series would be a massive mismatch - especially when the PCB, in its infinite wisdom, chose to slap life bans on Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan, the two batsmen most likely to bat England out of contention in any given contest.

And yet, is there any team in the world with a greater gift for regeneration than Pakistan? The volatility of their performance against Australia at Lord's - which culminated in the dramatic resignation of the brand-new captain, Shahid Afridi - gave way to a performance at Headingley that was forged from pure inspiration. With Mohammad Aamer swinging the ball like a latterday Wasim Akram, the two Ys were scarcely missed until the tense final stages of that fourth-innings run-chase. Who needs runs on the board when you can roll a side over for 88?

Such is the nature of England's latest opponents. Bursts of brilliance are to be expected throughout the coming four Tests, interwoven with periods - protracted or otherwise - in which Pakistan's focus drifts off into the ether. It is a mercurial tendency that promises to deliver a flawed but fascinating series, and anyone who dares to treat these matches as nothing more than an Ashes appetiser might well find themselves too full to move by the end of it.

"You know that Pakistan are unlikely to be on their game for the full five days of a Test match, and if you can make sure you can play consistent cricket, I think that gives you an advantage," said England's captain Andrew Strauss. "They have a good varied bowling attack, but I don't think it's our job to overly hype the opposition. Most Test teams you play against have got a good bowling attack, and Pakistan is one of the better ones we'll see."

Nevertheless, England know they will have to be on their guard at a ground where swing bowlers have habitually ruled the roost, and against a team that may now be classified as the away side, but is likely to feel very much at home after two hard-fought Tests against Australia at Lord's and Headingley.

"I think it was very good to start the tour having played such a good side in the conditions," said Pakistan's captain, Salman Butt. "The local community and the local people from this country have all supported us and we are very thankful for this 'homely' atmosphere, though this is not home. Our side is very young, with limited experience, so it is good for us. We needed all the practice we could get, and this is the best possible practice we could have had."

While Strauss acknowledged that England were unlikely to catch their opponents cold after such a build-up to the series, he still felt that the schedule would ultimately tell against Pakistan. "They are more used to the conditions than they would be if it was the first Test match in the series," he said, "but at the same time it's a hard schedule with six Test matches in such a short time. The most important thing for us is that these are our own conditions, we're very comfortable here, and we know what type of cricket we need to play. We need to use that to our advantage over the course of this summer."

England's attack will have to perform at peak levels if they are to outshine a Pakistan attack that put Australia's frontline seamers to shame in both the Lord's and Headingley Tests. Aamer's zippy left-arm line is perfectly complemented by Mohammad Asif's stingy seam and the reverse-swing of Umar Gul, and as Butt admitted: "I am a lucky person to have all these three up my sleeve.

"They've been producing results, taking wickets and troubling the batsmen, so I think these things are very eye-catching for all the teams and spectators," he added. "They bring a lot of confidence to me as a captain and us as a team because whatever totals you manage, you are always confident you have a good bowling attack and you can defend it."

England's own pacemen have plenty of strengths to call upon, although they aren't exactly a like-for-like line-up. Stuart Broad is on his home turf, and is walking on air after a career-best 8 for 52 against Warwickshire earlier in the week, although seam not swing is his particular strength. The same goes for Steven Finn, whose 6'8" frame will test the mettle of a Pakistan middle-order that occasionally looked vulnerable when the considerably less lanky Doug Bollinger started ramping up the aggro.

But given Trent Bridge's reputation for lateral movement, the focus will undoubtedly fall on James Anderson, a player whose credentials as the leader of the attack have suffered in recent months with his omission from the victorious World Twenty20 campaign in the Caribbean, as well as an off-the-boil showing in the recent spate of one-day contests against Australia and Bangladesh.

"Most Test teams you play against have got a good bowling attack, and Pakistan is one of the better ones we'll see."

"Jimmy Anderson is under some pressure, as we all are," said Strauss. "We want healthy competition in the ranks, and it would be wrong ever to assume that your place in the side is cast in stone. I think we have got a fair amount of competition, both in the batting line-up now, and there are some bowlers chomping at the bit to get in as well. Jimmy, we know what he can do, and in the right conditions there's no better bowler in world cricket, I don't think. Like everything, we want our bowlers to be as consistent as possible in all conditions, so that's the challenge for him."

The challenge for England is to treat the coming contests as an end in themselves, regardless of any temptation to look straight through the here-and-now and rest their gaze on the Ashes. With that in mind, Strauss is already attempting to be ambivalent about the state of Australia's current preparations, particularly in light of that first-innings humiliation at Headingley.

"My first thought was that it just proved I should have bowled first at Headingley last year," he said, recalling how England themselves had been blown away for 102 by the Aussies, en route to a two-and-a-half-day defeat. "We had an interest in that series but it wasn't a close interest, because it's not that relevant right at the moment for us.

"It was relevant to have a look at the Pakistani bowlers and how they were looking to bowl at right- and left-handers for instance, but as far as Australia is concerned, I still think that's something that's a little bit down the road. We don't need to be side-tracked by that at this moment."

He is quite right of course. Come Thursday morning, and given the sort of cloudy conditions that hung over Trent Bridge on the eve of the contest, England might well have plenty to preoccupy them as it is.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Tansah on July 29, 2010, 18:03 GMT

    Yeah, it WAS expected that the Pakistani seamers would trouble the English batsmen... and Asif and M. Amir did do just that. What a shame... that Kamran Akmal couldn't hold onto the ball and Kaneria decided to ball full tosses. Gul forgot about the overstep-no-ball rule... and now England are cruising. I'm afraid to say that Pakistan have lost this game as they do not have a decent batting line up to get 300+ runs.

  • P on July 29, 2010, 17:40 GMT

    I think "the best bowlers in the world" are starting to get some first class spanking from English middle-order batsmen. I think England will score over 500 in first innings and Pak. will have to worry about saving an innings defeat test loss.

  • mohammad on July 29, 2010, 12:17 GMT

    The England captain is right," most of the test team has good bowling attack and Pakistan is ones of the better one, we will see". " Pakistan is unlikely to be in their game for full five days". I think the captain has sorted out the Pak team. With Akmal dropping catch and the heavy toll the Australia tests took, Pakistan will be on the back foot as the match progress. If England scores 300 plus, the match will tilt in their favor without dependable batsmen in Pak team.

  • abid on July 29, 2010, 8:57 GMT

    Great article..I love the way you write...I was laughing when I read Strauss saying " You know that Pakistan are unlikely to be on their game for the full five days of a Test match"...and England can take advantage of that...Mr.Strauss,If Pakistan play couple of sessions in test match "bieng on thier game" ,the match wont last 3 days...lol...They will knock you over for 150 in an innings...Either they will chase them down quickly or get out fo 130....Pakistan dont have to play thier best cricket for 5 complete days to win a test match...

  • sridhar on July 29, 2010, 8:48 GMT

    England should play better than Australia given the fact that these are their own , home conditions that they confront more often than not. Having said that , one must say that most teams are unable to handle the moving ball and if the weather continues to be murky as it was in the Leeds test then one can expect batsmen in both sides to struggle and most certainly one can expect a result unlike the match in Colombo where the pitch is deader than a dodo. If Pakistan bat better than they did the last time around , then England will be pushed to the brink. Pakistan's bowling is phenomenal , particularly for English conditions. But their batting is mercurial as has been demonstratead time and again An interesting match and series in the offing, though my money is on England . Pakistan's best chance would be for the Akmals to fine and salman to bat as he did against Australia. Interesting four test matches ahead. Ramanujam Sridhar

  • Rob on July 29, 2010, 5:19 GMT

    Why is everyone talking this series up so much? We all know that England are the favourites and there's no denying it. So what's the fuss all about? Looks like journalism is turning inot advertising. { I'm not referring to this particular article, but to all articles on the subject. This was just the first article that I could comment on }

  • Geoffrey on July 29, 2010, 5:14 GMT

    Just because Pakistan just managed to scrape a victory against a bog average Australian side does not mean that England should have any trouble against Pakistan. English bowlers will rout the Paskistani batsman. It won't matter how well they bowl against a superior English batting line up.

    Good practice for England though for the upcoming ashes. I'm tipping England 3-0 with one messed around for rain.

  • Faakhir on July 29, 2010, 2:52 GMT

    Completely unpredictable series it's going to be!! Let's hope Pakistan does well and the series is a thriller, not a one sided drab and dull afair.

  • JUNAID on July 29, 2010, 2:02 GMT

    Witnessing previous Eng vs Pak matches, i think England knows Salman Butt's batting weakness, they always make him struggle. i think this is the match where Azhar Ali is going to get famous. for England Graeme Swann, James Anderson and Trott will be their great weapons. overall i can predict a 5 star rating match. GO CRICKETERS

  • cric on July 29, 2010, 1:21 GMT

    Butt, Farhat, Kamran, Sohaib/Yasir need to show their temperamant at this time, stick to basics, just don't throw your wicket, the runs will come easily based on the nature of their skills. If 2 or 3 of these stays for 50+ or 100+ definitely it the team will score easy runs and they are very capable. Better not to control Umal Akmal while shifting that responsibility to the older Akmal. If these seniors takes responsibilities, definitely it will help Azhar/Amin/Umar and they can score runs too. Probably they all need to listen to Azhar Ali as how to choose or leave balls, he is a definite bet, who knows one of these Tests he might go for a very big runs say anywhere around 150-250 provided others support the other end. I can definitely bet on this lad. Go PAK Go.

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