England's problems mount with six-wicket defeat
Pakistan A 138 and 246 for 4 (Raza 71*, Shahid 57) beat England XI 126 and 256 by six wickets
England slumped to an embarrassing six-wicket defeat, shortly before tea on the third and final day at Bagh-e-Jinnah, as Hasan Raza, Pakistan A's captain, confirmed his burgeoning maturity with a fine unbeaten 71. Raza added 129 for the fourth wicket with Shahid Yousuf, and England's ignominous day was completed when Imran Farhat carved the winning runs past point off Andrew Flintoff.
It's been a bad 24 hours for England. As their captain, Michael Vaughan, looked on glumly from the sidelines, awaiting the results of the scan on his twisted knee, his bowlers were given the run-around from first ball to last. Pakistan A's nightwatchman, Shahid Nazir, set the tempo with an uninhibited innings of 43 from 31 balls, and though Flintoff chipped in with all three wickets to fall, the support bowlers were unable to cause any problems on a docile surface.
Steve Harmison was at least hostile, striking two painful blows in his opening spell, one of which caused the opener, Farhat, to retire hurt with an injured index finger. But after getting out of jail in their first warm-up at Rawalpindi, England got their comeuppance second-time around.
But Pakistan A were the team with the most to prove in this match. Mohammad Asif wants a return to Test colours, after a solitary outing against Australia earlier this year, and he did his utmost to ensure that would happen with a fine ten-wicket haul. Meanwhile Raza, who was reputedly the youngest Test cricketer in history when he made his debut as a 14-year-old in 1996-97, confirmed that - nine long years later - he is finally ready for higher honours. His unbeaten 71 included four fours and three sixes, the largest of which landed on the roof of the press tent, but common-sense was his watchword throughout, as he led the pursuit of 245 for victory.
The writing was on the wall for England from the very first hour, as the nightwatchman Nazir climbed into the new ball with an alacrity that England have been trying - and failing - to match all tour. He came to the crease late last night following the dismissal of Taufeeq Umar, and made his presence felt in no uncertain terms this morning, swinging the bat with the sort of insouciant abandon that characterises Muttiah Muralitharan's best slogs. He hit four fours and two sixes in all - all of them hefty heaves across the line - the last of which plopped over the head of a helpless Harmison at deep fine-leg.
Nazir took his fair share of blows as well, including one agonising strike below the belt from Harmison that required a lengthy time-out. His spree was eventually brought to an end when Flintoff extracted his off-stump with a well-directed yorker, but at 98 for 2 in just the 15th over of the innings, Nazir had carried his side well within striking distance of their target.
Flintoff added a second wicket to his tally when Faisal Athar miscued a pull straight back into the bowler's midriff for 8 (103 for 3), but Pakistan A were undaunted - even when Farhat left the crease for treatment - and as an intrigued local crowd began to find their voice from behind the gymkhana railings, Raza began to cut loose against the spin of Ashley Giles.
Without Vaughan to spur the side on, England seemed flat in the field and, with several members of the squad practising at the Gadaffi Stadium, they were short of replacement fielders as well. The assistant coach, Matthew Maynard, came onto the field when Andrew Strauss departed for treatment for a minor niggle, and though Strauss reappeared soon enough, he wasn't able to bring with him any magic formula from the dressing-room.
Raza and Yousuf went to lunch with an unbroken 50-run partnership, and they had added 79 more in a serene post-lunch session, in which neither Shaun Udal nor Paul Collingwood was able to make much impression. Flintoff returned to the attack to trap Yousuf lbw for 57 with a leg-stump yorker, but at that stage Pakistan A needed just 18 runs to win, and they rattled them off with the greatest of ease.
The only consolation for England is that they slumped to a similarly untimely defeat against South Africa A at Potchefstroom last winter, and bounced back to win the Test series 2-1. But with their captain looking increasingly likely to miss at least one match, if not more, their preparations for Multan have taken an undeniable blow.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo