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Tasty Pakistan serve England warning

Posted in England v Pakistan 2010

Mohammad Aamer

Mohammad Aamer gets the ball rolling today with the first of his three wickets

There are a healthy number of ECB staff on duty for the second Test between Pakistan and Australia at Headingley Carnegie, on what could quite feasibly be a spying mission.

Working behind the scenes to ensure a game of this magnitude runs smoothly, they also had the perfect opportunity to cast their eye over England’s next two opponents.

Pakistan provide the opposition in a four-Test series which gets under way next week, while Australia turn hosts later this year for the small matter of the Ashes.

There is little England will not know about Australia, given that they clashed this summer and last, and this blog does not wish to be bracketed among those publications whose cricket coverage begins and ends with the Ashes.

Seeing that Pakistan are the most immediate obstacle in England’s path, and the sides have not met for almost four years, one suspects of more benefit to Andy Flower will be some sort of analysis of their strengths and weakness.

There were plenty of the former and precious few of the latter on show today, when they dominated Australia to an extent that has rarely been seen during this writer’s lifetime, bowling them out for 88 before closing the opening day on 148 for three.

So what did we learn?

Mohammad Asif must rank, as Marcus Trescothick suggests, among the most skilful seamers in the world, particularly when conditions, as they were today, are in his favour.

He beat the bat more than any other bowler – he picked up three wickets to boot – and the manner in which he embarrassed Ricky Ponting with a series of leg-cutters before trapping him lbw with a full-length inswinger, should be essential viewing for the England top order.

Mohammad Aamer’s ability to shape the ball back in to the right-hander at nigh on 90mph is the weapon all left-armers dream of, and an economy rate of fewer than two runs an over today suggests he has no problem marrying pace with accuracy.

Mohammad Asif

Mohammad Asif, one third of a potent seam attack, enhanced his reptutation with a hugely skilful display

At the age of 18, a more exciting prospect in Test cricket there cannot be.

Umar Gul’s 2-16 return, which included the key wickets of Michael Clarke and Mike Hussey, served as confirmation that he is more than simply a Twenty20 specialist.

If he continues to bowl from close to the stumps, maintain the fullest of lengths and move the ball both ways, expect him to prosper against England.

Admittedly, overhead conditions were of much greater assistance to the seamers than the batsmen, but no less so than when Australia took their turn and allowed Pakistan to overhaul their meagre first-innings total in little more than an hour.

Pakistan’s batting, however, continues to exhibit a fragility that will encourage England.

Salman Butt, having shown himself to be an innovative captain in the field during a blissful first day at the helm, was one of three top-order batsmen to get in before departing to uncertain strokes.

Their innings, while featuring plentiful pleasant shots on either side of the wicket, were studded with wafts outside off stump, a forgivable sin on a day such as this but one which nevertheless will give England’s seamers heart.

Pakistan, it seems, are incapable of producing anything other than entertaining cricket, and it is a shame that only 4,329 spectators – a fair proportion of whom were Pakistan youngsters packed into the North East Stand – were there to see it.

The touts plying their trade outside the ground clearly expected a bigger turnout, although there was a sizeable gathering around the Pakistan team coach at the end of the day.

Salman Butt

Salman Butt is bowled for 45 playing across the line to Ben Hilfenhaus, a rare blemish on a splendid first day as captain

Cheers erupted whenever a Pakistan player emerged from the pavilion, often drowning out Australia coach Tim Nielsen during the press conference next door.

One thing we could hear was his verdict on the Pakistan bowlers: “They bowled beautifully. They bowled with good pace, with tremendous length and line, and used the conditions well.”

England have been warned.