Desperate England face Pakistan test
Sunday, June 7
Start time 17:30 local (16:30 GMT)
As Pakistan prepare for their return to the world stage after a traumatic period of exile, England find themselves staring into an abyss of their own making. A lip-smacking contest that, by rights, ought to have launched the ICC World Twenty20 has instead been turned into a do-or-die encounter. Netherlands' stunning victory at Lord's on Friday has blown the group wide open, and while England need nothing less than victory to keep their hopes alive, if Pakistan win they will be through.
England's attitude in the tournament opener was shameful and dismissive - they turned up without conviction and chose to rest their star players with an eye on bigger tussles. The impression they gave was one of indifference, which is an emotion that couldn't be further from the needs of Pakistan's hour. They need desperately to do well here, perhaps more than most other countries, given what they have and are going through.
Anything less than a semi-final spot would be a disappointment for Pakistan, and winning their very first game is now imperative. At least four of the potential XI against England were in the side that lost to Ireland in 2007: they know well the dangers - and subsequent pain - of playing against a minnow and would much prefer to go into Tuesday's game against Netherlands with a win secured.
Their run-in to this contest has been poor, with two comprehensive defeats in the warm-ups, but Pakistan has never been a nation to get excited by practice games. Indeed, if 1992 is anything to go by, the worse they play in the warm-ups, the better they are later in the tournament. Above all, as seen in 2007 and a Twenty20 record of 13 wins from 17 games (three losses), the format suits them just fine.
If only the same could be said for England. A desperate lack of focus condemned them in their opening game, and any more of the same will confirm their elimination. Defeat to a minnow may be the wake-up call they need, but with 24 hours to recover, they are sure to feel a bit groggy when the teams reconvene on the field.
Form guide (last five matches, most recent first)
This will only be Pakistan's second Twenty20 in seven months so rust will come into the equation. Though most of the side took a limited part in a quickfire domestic Twenty20 tournament, none of them were involved in the far more competitive IPL, which means effectively, the rest of the world has a headstart. They were impressive in a recent demolition of Australia but beyond that there isn't much form of any kind of competitive cricket to fall back on.
Where do we start with England? Too many matches against West Indies - 17 in four months, punctuated by a friendly against Scotland - have softened them up just when a hardening of attitude was the order of the day. They, like Pakistan, played minimal parts in the IPL, though that was less for political reasons, and more because the world doesn't rate their Twenty20 players. On Friday's evidence, that's hardly a surprise.
Watch out for
Pakistan's mix of fast bowlers and spinners is a potent one even in a tournament blessed with some fine bowling attacks (Sri Lanka, India and Australia to name just three). The top two wicket-takers in Twenty20s are both to be found in green: Umar Gul and Shahid Afridi. If either Sohail Tanvir finds some form or young Mohammad Aamer chooses this stage to make an impact, their attack will be difficult to overcome.
Pity poor Stuart Broad, whose experiences in his last two World Twenty20 contests have been among the most chastening of his career. At Durban in September 2007, he was clouted for six sixes in an over by Yuvraj Singh; but even that paled compared to his humiliation on Friday at Lord's, when - despite serving up about the best over he could muster - he was still England's fall-guy thanks to a tally of three missed run-outs and a dropped catch in the final six balls of the contest. He is, however, a quality cricketer with shoulders as broad as his surname. He will be vital if England are to bounce back
Pakistan experimented heavily in the warm-up games but still seem no closer to an ideal XI. Aamer might have played himself into a starting spot with an impressive performance against India. But problems with the batting order are apparent: Ahmed Shehzad will open, but who will he partner? Salman Butt is not guaranteed a spot, in which case, Kamran Akmal may well do so. There have also been reports that the captain Younis Khan might take up the role, fuelling further uncertainty over his best spot in the order. And Fawad Alam also provides useful all-round options; in short, uncertainty is all.
Pakistan: (probable) 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Salman Butt, 3 Kamran Akmal (wk), 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq, 6 Younis Khan (capt), 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Sohail Tanvir, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Mohammad Aamer, 11 Saeed Ajmal.
England took "gambles" on Friday, in the unwise admission of their captain, Paul Collingwood. They rested Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Swann, and recalled Robert Key for his first international for four years when the six-hitting talents of Dimitri Mascarenhas might have been more appropriate. Expect some changes, though how far will they push it? Pietersen, surely, has to play through whatever pain he is feeling. England's World Cup prospects hinge on his presence.
England: (probable) 1 Luke Wright, 2 Ravi Bopara, 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Owais Shah, 5 Paul Collingwood (capt), 6 Dimitri Mascarenhas, 7 James Foster (wk), 8 Graeme Swann, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 James Anderson, 11 Ryan Sidebottom.
Pitch and conditions
The weather for the weekend is grim to say the least, with torrential rain forecast throughout the night on Saturday. Nevertheless, the clouds are expected to clear before the evening, which means a full match could take place, in conditions tailor-made for swing. Step forward, Anderson and Sidebottom. Your country needs you.
Stats and trivia
"We hope he'll be fit for Sunday, but we're obviously not going to take any major risks, simple as that. He's involved in a big year ahead of us, but this is a must-win game on Sunday, and if he's fit he's playing."
Paul Collingwood is unclear quite how hard England want to push Pietersen's fitness for a crucial contest.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo. Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor.