Vaughan returns for England's latest challenge
It's still hard to believe that England are the team playing catch-up in this series. After doing everything right for the first four days of the first Test at Multan, the walls came tumbling down in a crazy session-and-a-half on the final morning, as Shoaib Akhtar and Danish Kaneria pinched a 22-run victory for Pakistan that must rank among their most memorable of all time.
The task that now confronts England, therefore, is as tough as they have ever faced - and they have had a few memorable moments in the past two years. "It's a massive challenge," admitted Michael Vaughan, whose return from injury was confirmed after the final practice session. Under his leadership, England have never yet failed to bounce back from defeat with a victory in the very next match, but to overturn a 1-0 deficit in a three-Test series is a feat that few sides have ever achieved.
To make matters more complex for England, they have not just a resurgent opposition to contend with. As winter draws ever closer and the shadows begin to lengthen, so the amount of time available to force a victory recedes. If England's failure at Multan stemmed from an over-eagerness to complete the job, then on the flat, grassless and abrasive surface that has been prepared for the Faisalabad match, the danger is that they will trip over themselves in their attempts to play catch-up.
"In the first Test we played a perfect game up until the final morning," said Vaughan, as he rued the missed opportunity at Multan. "We scored at a decent rate, we put them under pressure with good running between the wickets, and we bowled very well in the second innings. If you offered me 190 to win in the last innings again, we'd still take that."
Vaughan's return to the colours is undoubtedly a risk, much as he would like to portray it otherwise. Back in May 2004, when he last suffered the same knee problem, he spent 17 days on the sidelines, as opposed to the 13 he will have had by the time the match gets underway tomorrow. Had England's middle-order of Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen not misfired so noticeably at Multan, discretion might have proved the better part of Vaughan's valour.
Pietersen, for all his subcontinental shortcomings, is a man from whom sparks can expect to fly at any given moment - and with a top score of 19 in six innings on tour, England will be expecting that moment to come some time over the next few days. Instead it will be Ian Bell or, more probably, Paul Collingwood who will make way, as Vaughan himself admitted.
"It's pretty obvious it'll be Collingwood or Bell who misses out," he confirmed. "The selectors will liaise today but it's a tough one. Belly played well, while Colly's only just got into the team."
Bell played very well, in fact, seizing on an unexpected reprieve to score 71 and 31 in the match and banish his bitter memories from last summer's Ashes. Collingwood, on the other hand, was neither one thing nor the other. He was given his chance partly on the strength of his bowling, but sent down just four innocuous overs, while his batting failed to provide the ballast expected of a Test No. 4, especially with the big-hitting Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff for company.
It is not in England's nature to axe a player before he has had a chance to prove himself - especially a man who has been so loyal to the cause as Collingwood - but needs must on this occasion, as England seek the formula to haul them back to parity. In the eight series since Vaughan assumed the captaincy, England have won six, drawn one and lost just once (against Sri Lanka in December 2003). They have their work cut out to maintain that proud record.
The biggest obstacle to England's ambitions would appear to be the legspinner, Danish Kaneria. Though Shane Warne was seen off during the summer (albeit not without a struggle), Kaneria's mastery of the googly has posed problems that few of England's batsmen have had an answer to. Pietersen was particularly stiff-wristed during his first-innings dismissal, while Shaun Udal's resistance on the final morning was ended with an emphatic tweaker that demolished his middle stump.
"He's probably the best young legspinner in the world," said Vaughan, "To compare him with Shane Warne is too early, although if anything he probably gets a little more bounce. On the last day of a Test he is bound to cause you problems, but it's more of a worry to lose six wickets to the seamers at the other end."
One of those seamers, Shabbir Ahmed, is unlikely to feature again in the series, after being reported for a suspect action, while Shahid Afridi is expected to join the line-up to exploit the dusty Faisalabad wicket with his leaping legbreaks. But though England will doubtless have been shaken into action by their failures at Multan, only one batsman - Marcus Trescothick - can truly claim to be in top form.
Trescothick, however, has other matters on his mind, after his father-in-law fell from a ladder in an accident at home, during the closing stages of the Multan match. "To be honest we didn't know much about it," said Vaughan. "It takes some heart to keep playing a Test when you know something like that has happened at home."
Vaughan was adamant that his vice-captain would be fully focused for Faisalabad, just as he himself would overcome the fears that his recurring knee injury have doubtless sewn. England, as a collective unit, would do well to learn from the discipline and focus that the pair are preaching. It could stand them in good stead in the coming days.
England (probable) 1 Marcus Trescothick, 2 Andrew Strauss, 3 Michael Vaughan (capt) 4 Ian Bell, 5 Kevin Pietersen, 6 Andrew Flintoff, 7 Geraint Jones (wk), 8 Ashley Giles, 9 Shaun Udal, 10 Mathew Hoggard, 11 Steve Harmison
Pakistan (probable) 1 Salman Butt, 2 Shoaib Malik, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Mohammad Yousuf, 5 Inzamam-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Shahid Afridi, 7 Kamran Akmal (wk), 8 Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, 9 Mohammad Sami, 10 Shoaib Akhtar, 11 Danish Kaneria
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo