England crumble again
Another day, another dismal batting collapse for England. After tumbling to 60 for 6 and 39 for 6 in their first warm-up match at Rawalpindi last week, they went one wicket worse at Bagh-e-Jinnah, as Pakistan A reduced the first-choice Test XI to an embarrassing 53 for 7 after 18 overs of the morning session. Though they recovered to 126, and then climbed back into contention by the close through the efforts of Matthew Hoggard and Ashley Giles, it was another worryingly wasteful batting performance that was the talking-point of the day.
England's nemesis was the Pakistan A seamer, Mohammad Asif, who took five wickets in his first nine overs, eventually finishing with the fine figures of 7 for 62. Asif played a solitary wicketless Test against Australia in Sydney this year, but according to the national coach, Bob Woolmer, he has improved beyond recognition since then. With Woolmer looking on approvingly from the sidelines, Asif did his utmost to ensure he does not remain a one-cap wonder for long.
On a pitch that the local groundsman described as "sporting", Asif and his new-ball partner, Shahid Nazir, were quickly into the thick of things. Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick fell with the score stuck on 13, and even though Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen were both reprieved on 0, neither was able to make their good fortune count. Pietersen tried to hit his way out of trouble and edged Asif to Aminur Rahman behind the stumps for 4, and three balls later, Paul Collingwood carved loosely to give Shahid his second catch.
Vaughan stroked three defiant boundaries, but he was Asif's next victim, also courtesy of a loose drive to third slip. And after a maiden from Nazir, Geraint Jones - whose place is under increasing pressure from Matt Prior - lost his middle stump as he played around a straight one. Andrew Flintoff, just 72 hours off the plane from England, miscued a drive to Arshad Khan in the covers, and at 53 for 7, England were staring at humiliation. But the bowlers spared their blushes to a degree, with Giles and Shaun Udal leading the resistance with 23 and 21 respectively, before Hoggard and Steve Harmison added a further 25 for the tenth wicket.
Hoggard, who had been laid low with a viral infection prior to this game, would have been hoping to spend his day recuperating in the dressing-room, but instead he was straight back out into the middle, entrusted with the new ball as England sought a way back into contention. On his previous appearance at Bagh-e-Jinnah, in November 2000, Hoggard picked up match figures of 8 for 30, and he was quickly back into the swing of things, grabbing each of the first four wickets to fall as Pakistan added stuttered to 46 for 4.
Collingwood, brought on as first-change, then bowled Mansoor Amjad with his fourth ball to send England into tea in a much better frame of mind. In a sedate final session, they were frustrated by a sixth-wicket stand of 60 between Hasan Raza and Aminur Rahman, before Giles, in a late flurry, applied some gloss to England's performance with three wickets in four balls, including Rehman and Arshad Khan in consecutive deliveries.
By stumps, the game was as close to parity as England could have hoped. But aside from Trescothick, only three other batsmen have reached double-figures even once this tour. Sometime tomorrow, they will get their final opportunity for meaningful practice ahead of Multan.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo