Englandís tour of Pakistan: A true litmus test for the hosts
by Taha Noor

Player:Inzamam-ul-Haq, Shoaib Akhtar, Abdul Razzaq
Event:England in Pakistan 2005/06

DateLine: 18th September 2005


Interest in the upcoming series between Pakistan and England has certainly been sparked by Englandís recent Ashes success against the world champions, Australia. The England team is now considered the best Test match outfit in cricket on current form, and their performance in the NatWest series prior to the enthralling Ashes Test series proved that they are equally competent in the shorter version of the game.


Cricket pundits regard England to be strong favourites for the Pakistan three-match Test series. This view is directly attributable to the superior performance of the English side in recent times, with Pakistanís low standings on the ICC Test cricket rankings clearly indicating they have failed to impress recently.


Pakistan is a youthful side and is re-emerging under the leadership of Inzamam-ul-Haq. However, in Test cricket, they have been extremely inconsistent, which was evident in the two previous Test series against India and West Indies, where appalling performances were interspersed with flashes of brilliance.


The current main weakness for Pakistan has been the lack of firepower in the bowling attack. The absence of Shoaib Akhtar in the previous two series has meant that Danish Kaneria and Mohammad Sami have had to bear extra pressure for knocking over sides twice on placid tracks. However, it is pleasing to note that all of Pakistanís premier bowlers are now fit and raring to go, which means that the best possible side can be picked from existing resources. An attack comprising a fully-fit Shoaib, Sami, Shabbir Ahmed (presuming his action is cleared) and Danish Kaneria, with Shahid Nazir and Umar Gul as the back-up appears to be a good prospect, at least on paper.


A major question mark however hangs over the batting line-up with the openers yet to be established although plenty of candidates have been given an adequate opportunity for the two available slots. Taufeeq Umar and Imran Farhat had virtually established themselves for the Test squad a couple of seasons back, but their disappointing performance in the later series means Salman Butt and Yasir Hameed will be the most likely starters for the series against England. The middle order appears well established with Inzamam, Yousuf Youhana, Younis Khan and Asim Kamal cementing their places after excellent performances in recent times.


The ODI squad appears far more balanced with some quality allrounders such as Shoaib Malik, Abdul Razzaq and Shahid Afridi lending tremendous utility to the side. The hosts are expected to be far more competitive in this version of the game, and one can look forward to a closely fought set of encounters.


The most suitable set of combinations for both Test matches and ODIís is as follows:


Test Series Squad   ODI Squad
1. Salman But   1. Salman But
2. Yasir Hameed   2. Shahid Afridi
3. Younis Khan   3. Younis Khan
4. Inzamam-ul-Haq   4. Inzamam-ul-Haq
5. Yousuf Youhana   5. Yousuf Youhana
6. Asim Kamal   6. Abdul Razzaq
7. Abdul Razzaq   7. Kamran Akmal
8. Kamran Akmal   8. Shoaib Malik
9. Shoaib Akhtar   9. Shoaib Akhtar
10. Mohammad Sami   10. Mohammad Sami
11. Danish Kaneria   11. Naved-ul-Hasan


The decision on whether to include Abdul Razzaq in the Test squad is possibly the most tricky team composition related question that shall have to be answered by the captain and team management. Pakistan needs to determine whether Razzaqís bowling is penetrative enough to justify his selection for Test cricket, or whether the team would be better served by including a genuine swing bowler like Shabbir Ahmed or Shahid Nazir.


The preparation of pitches during the series shall also significantly influence decision making, and if the pre-series comments are anything to go by, Pakistan is likely to go with relatively quick and grassy tracks, hoping their pace attack can deliver the goods. It is worth considering though, by preparing faster tracks the hosts are playing to the strength of England, who appear to be almost invincible with Harmison, Hoggard, Flintoff and Jones putting on brilliant showings against the mighty Aussies.


This is a factor that shall definitely be taken into consideration, but noting and perhaps lamenting, that Pakistan hardly has any quality spinners, other than the ever-improving Danish Kaneria, the quicker tracks are likely to be the most suitable option.


Either way, the Test series is likely to be the true Ďlitmus testí and Bob Woolmer and his boys shall have to come up with an inspired performance to match the brilliance of the English side. All Pakistan cricket fans will be eager to see whether the hosts can bring the English juggernaut to a halt.

(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2005 Taha Noor


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