Meeting with success under a new captain

ENGLAND'S claims to fame from their one-day series are clear enough: they won 2-1. But what about the new Pakistan, a bunch of young fighters being pushed in the right direction by that crafty old fox Javed Miandad?

TED CORBETT

The England team after beating Pakistan in the NatWest Challenge.-Pic. TOM SHAW/GETTY IMAGES

ENGLAND'S claims to fame from their one-day series are clear enough: they won 2-1. But what about the new Pakistan, a bunch of young fighters being pushed in the right direction by that crafty old fox Javed Miandad?

They have plenty to be proud of too. The first and third matches of the series were so tight that if there had been a scrap of good luck to either team they might have won. Only the second game, dominated by England from the first ball, and by the hat-trick kid James Anderson and the assertive batsman Marcus Trescothick, was one-sided.

I am not saying that the result was unjust but a sensible reading of the games after a few days to reflect must have led Javed to think that his men had done as well as they could, given that they were playing away from home, that a number of decisions might have gone their way instead of England's and that vital catches were dropped.

Forgive me, but I am tempted to fall back on the old awards ceremony cliches by saying that it was a pity there had to be a loser, that both sides gave everything and that both teams should be stronger for having played in this series.

Every one-day nation is trying to rebuild for the next World Cup in 2007 and Pakistan, as usual, have gone for a most vivid, most colourful and most decisive way of changing the shape of their team.

Out have gone the old heroes Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Inzamam-ul-Haq and the future of the side has been handed to a whole bunch of virtually unknown batsmen and bowlers. They need guidance, experience and now and again a strong kick; who better to deliver all three than Javed!

I just hope he remembers how it was to be a young player and shows a little patience.

England have, of course, got off to a flier in their attempt to reshape their World Cup squad and it has not all, despite the 2-1 victory, gone according to plan. Of their young batsmen only Vikram Solanki, a much more mature player than the one who wasted his best chances in South Africa during Nasser Hussain's first tour, has looked the part.

He attacks, as a man from the Golden Triangle might be expected to, yet when Marcus Trescothick was smashing the ball here, there and everywhere at the Oval, he hung back and waited his turn. It looks as if he might have the staying power.

James Troughton, more famous for being the grandson of the actor in the Dr. Who series than a batsman, was a disappointment. Outside the off stump he is vulnerable yet he has time to learn his craft and make runs in the second one-day series of the summer against South Africa and Zimbabwe. His fielding is as impressive as Solanki's and that is a compliment.

Rikki Clarke, who made a heap of runs in his first big year with Surrey and was the `Young Cricketer of the Year' last year, bowled better than he batted. He is only 21 and there is time for him to be sent back to the Oval and nurtured both by the Surrey staff and the England experts. He may need a second trip to the Academy and a little advice. He does not deserve to be chucked on the rubbish heap as some promising young stars have been in the recent past.

Chris Read, another who had a wrongly-judged tour of South Africa, has grown into a fine wicket-keeper and he has the backing of both Rod Marsh, now a selector, and Stuart MacGill, the overseas professional at Nottinghamshire, Read's county. If he falters there are other young wicket-keepers around not least Mark Wallace of Glamorgan and James Foster of Essex.

Lancashire have put in a claim for the championship and promotion from the Second Division of the National League, mainly based on a number of imported players, but with the first strength coming from Andrew Flintoff who is beginning to punch his considerable weight and James Anderson who brings a sentimental tear to the eyes of those who remember Brian Statham's explosive beginnings in the 1950s.

Statham is a legend at Old Trafford where he mopped up 2,260 wickets at 16.36 and, in partnership with the other champion bowler Fred Trueman, grabbed 252 victims in Tests.

In the way of legends Statham is now regarded as the original of the "if you miss I hit" brand of bowlers but whatever spin is put on the truth about this remarkable, quiet, unaggressive fast bowler is also the truth about Anderson. "What do you think it would take to get Anderson to bowl a bouncer, or a throat ball?" I asked one old Lancashire hand.

"You could try writing him a letter," he said and then remembered that Statham had no time for such deliveries either.

Anderson has benefited, as several of the younger players have been helped, by the change in captaincy.

When he handed over the reins to Michael Vaughan, Nasser Hussain told him: "Make them a bit frightened of you." That is, as Bob Simpson has pointed out in the columns of this magazine recently, not the way to inspire team work, but it was Hussain's way and who can say that was unsuccessful?

In the main it made Hussain the right man to bridge the gap for England. It is certainly not Vaughan's way.

When Vaughan went to the wicket after Trescothick was out at the Oval, having made 86 as quickly as if the bowling had been by an old ladies' team, he wore a grin of pure delight. Partly in the knowledge that he was about to win his first game as an international captain, partly because there was no burden on him and the rest of the batsmen to score runs quickly but mostly, I suspect, because he was pleased that Trescothick had been able to throw off the demons that beset him in the winter.

A happy Trescothick is the best evidence of a happy England dressing room and there were no signs that week-end that there was a moment of dissent with the camp.

Watch the captain if you want to know the mood of the team. Hussain was all action, ready to praise but just as ready to berate a failure. It makes for a twitchy side.

Vaughan will have none of that. He has moved himself to mid off where he stands and thinks, calm as a statue, but with the eye of every man in his team watching his every move. When he wants someone he only has to move a finger and the man is on his way to a new fielding position or readying himself to bowl.

"I want 11 captains in my side,'' he said and you can see that advice pours in from all sides although he clearly has a small action group who make all the major decisions. In the third match Vaughan was already relishing his authority and each time he moved a man or a bowler there was a result.

His fielding has also enjoyed a revival, probably because as a captain he has to concentrate on every ball and, besides, his future depends on getting his hands round the ball.

Right until the last 10 overs when he lost the plot briefly Vaughan was in total control; but then which fielding captain can claim to control the slog overs?

So England have young eager cricketers willing to learn, established players improving all the time and a new, cool captain with his finger on the button.

The fact that they have beaten Pakistan does not mean that the summer will be all glory. South Africa will be tough under another new captain although it may be many years before Zimbabwe are good enough to tour abroad expecting anything except a good hiding. They have had a humiliating time round the counties in the practice matches between two Test defeats and the tri-series and only a conspiracy theorist would back them to reach the finals of that NatWest championship.

But as we end this hymn of praise for England let us look at what they have beaten. Pakistan are a bunch of fighters in the Javed mould but, under the leadership of Rashid Latif, they are also becoming wiser cricketers.

In these three one-day games they fielded poorly on occasions, they dropped too many catches and they ran badly between the wickets. Yet it was easy to spot their potential.

They may be a finer team than England when we all set off for the Caribbean on the adventure known as World Cup 2007. As they continue to turn out bowlers like that champion Shoaib Akhtar, his brother in arms Mohammad Sami and the work horses Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood — all young enough for two further World Cups — there are hints that the next few years will bring a quantity of young players of quality and good habits and capable of winning trophies at any level.

The scores: Old Trafford, June 17

England 204 for nine in 50 overs (Vikram Solanki 36, Michael Vaughan 27, Andrew Flintoff 39, Anthony McGrath 33, Shoaib Malik three for 26) lost to Pakistan 208 for eight in 49.2 overs (Imran Nazir 33, Mohammad Hafeez 69, James Anderson three for 59).

The Oval, June 20

Pakistan 185 in 44 overs (Yasir Hameed 28, Yousuf Youhana 75 not out, Ashar Mahmood 30, Anderson four for 27, including a hat-trick) lost to England 189 for three in 22 overs (Marcus Trescothick 86, Solanki 40, Flintoff 26 not out).

Lord's, June 22

Pakistan 229 for seven in 50 overs (Younis Khan 63, Abdul Razzaq 64, Flintoff four for 32) lost to England 231 for six in 48.3 overs (Trescothick 108 not out, Vaughan 29, Chris Read 25 not out, Mohammad Hafeez three for 31).