Pakistan v England, 3rd Test, Lahore November 28, 2005

Vaughan could prove the difference

James Anderson is in the frame for the final Test © Getty Images
England's proud record of six consecutive unbeaten series is hanging by a thread. Tomorrow's third and final Test in Lahore represents their last opportunity to draw level in a rubber that, until mid-morning on the fifth day at Multan, they seemed to have firmly in their grasp.

Speaking to the press on the eve of the match, England's captain, Michael Vaughan, conceded that England were still ruing their missed opportunities. "We played a good game at Multan where we should really have won," he said, "while at Faisalabad we created a few opportunities on the fourth afternoon. We'll just keep pushing ourselves a little bit further each game."

It is a long time since England were last in this situation. Not since the Oval Test against South Africa in 2003 - Vaughan's first series in charge - have they had to come from behind to steal a share of the series, while their last series loss came in Sri Lanka three months later, when they were hammered by an innings and 215 runs in the final Test in Colombo.

"We've been playing catch-up cricket because we've lost both tosses," conceded Vaughan. "It's a big game for us all, seeing as we're 1-0 down and we haven't lost a series for two years now, but we're looking forward to the challenge."

After a strangely overcast weekend, there had been reports that the Lahore pitch would turn out to be damp and green, but an inspection on the eve of the match confounded such thoughts. "It's certainly not an English greentop," said Vaughan. "As expected it looks a decent pitch, like the one we played on here five years ago. It'll be a good batting pitch, offering a bit of assistance, but as we proved over the last two games, if you bowl with good discipline, you can put Pakistan under pressure."

England will hope it's not too like the Lahore strip from the 2000-01 tour. That match was memorable only for an astonishing feat of endurance from Graham Thorpe, who compiled a century in England's first innings that contained just the one boundary. England, who need to force the pace in order to beat both the opposition and the prevailing weather conditions, will hope for a little more life this time around.

Vaughan confirmed yesterday that he would be returning to the top of the order, where he has played 31 of his 63 Tests and scored 10 of his 15 centuries. "I stress it's only for this game," he added. "Andrew Strauss will be straight back in for the India series and I'll go back to No. 3. But I've had a lot of success opening, and hopefully there'll be some more in this Test."

England's other selection dilemma, however, remains unresolved, with Ashley Giles's longstanding hip injury continuing to be monitored. "We're a little bit closer to a decision, but we'll wait and see how everyone comes through practice," said Vaughan. "Ashley's all right and he had a good long bowl, so we'll see how he's come through that. If we go in with one spinner, we have to make sure he can play a full part."

Giles is already due to fly home after the Test to undergo surgery on his problematic hip, and with just three tail-end wickets in the first two Tests, he has not exactly made an unanswerable case for inclusion. England, however, are famously loyal to their long-standing players, and so it remains more likely that Shaun Udal will sit out the match - assuming, of course, that England opt to play an extra seam bowler.

"We'll be looking for the best formula to take 20 wickets," Vaughan stressed, adding that both James Anderson and Liam Plunkett were very much in the frame for that extra seam-bowling position. For Anderson, a recall would represent his first Test since a traumatic one-off match at Johannesburg last winter, when he played in place of Simon Jones and was carted all around the park as his lack of match preparation was exposed by Herschelle Gibbs and Co.

"That's a long time ago," said Vaughan. "Almost 12 months in fact. Jimmy's had a good county season, and he bowled well in the warm-up game a few weeks ago. Sometimes though, it's better to go in fresh because if you play all the time little things can creep into your mind, Just go out and see where it takes you, because it usually takes you to a decent level of performance."

Paul Collingwood could do with a similar injection of devil-may-care confidence, for his recall to the problematic No. 4 position represents possibly his last chance to prove himself as a Test batsman. He has the one-day series to come, in which he has long been an integral member of the squad, but in Tests he has managed just four outings in four years, with a highest score of 36.

Vaughan refuses to be drawn on the significance of the occasion for Collingwood, although if England's middle order is unproven, then the same can also be said of Pakistan. Shahid Afridi and Younis Khan have been replaced by Asim Kamal at No.3 and Hasan Raza at No. 6; neither of those two will fill England's bowlers with dread.

One man, on the other hand, most certainly will. Inzamam himself, unmoved at the pivotal No. 5 position, again represents the single biggest obstacle to England's ambitions of squaring the series. He was the difference between the sides at Faisalabad, as Vaughan himself admitted. And if Vaughan cannot win a crucial toss and get runs on the board early, he could once again prove the difference at Lahore as well.

Pakistan (probable) 1 Shoaib Malik, 2 Salman Butt, 3 Asim Kamal, 4 Mohammad Yousuf, 5 Inzamam-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Hasan Raza, 7 Kamran Akmal (wk), 8 Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, 9 Shoaib Akhtar, 10 Mohammad Sami, 11 Danish Kaneria

England (probable) 1 Marcus Trescothick, 2 Michael Vaughan (capt), 3 Ian Bell, 4 Paul Collingwood, 5 Kevin Pietersen, 6 Andrew Flintoff, 7 Geraint Jones (wk), 8 Ashley Giles, 9 Matthew Hoggard, 10 Steve Harmison, 11 James Anderson

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo