Cricket Expert & Columnist
It'll be no walkover
Mike Atherton expects England to get a result at the Oval this week - but in a rather different fashion from 2006.
Last Updated: 17/08/10 12:49pm
When Inzamam-ul-Haq refused to lead Pakistan back onto the Oval field against England in 2006 some described it as one of the biggest crisis that cricket had faced.
It was a bizarre set of circumstances, certainly, but given that cricket has had to deal with issues as severe as match-fixing over the years, I didn't think the scenes were quite so shocking as was suggested.
What we witnessed then was an avoidable scenario that had no lasting consequences on cricket. It boiled down to the stubbornness of one umpire, Darrell Hair, and an aggrieved Pakistan team.
Hair's subsequent employment tribunal with the International Cricket Board was unproductive and, while there was some politicking within the ICC about the result of the game, the incident was quickly forgotten - and deservedly so.
The matter has raised its head again now because this week Pakistan will play a Test at the Oval for the first time since that infamous day back in August 2006.
There will undoubtedly be echoes of the past in the build-up because five of Inzamam's team from four years ago - Imran Farhat, Mohammad Yousuf, Kamran Akmal, Umar Gul and Mohammad Asif - could all potentially take to the field against Andrew Strauss' England. But those echoes should have little if any relevance to the outcome of this match.
Based on what we've seen so far this summer, England should take an unassailable 3-0 series lead at the Oval providing the weather allows enough cricket to be played.
In the past, Pakistan have looked forward to playing here because the conditions and pitches have tended to suit their reverse-swing bowlers and wrist spinner.
But funnily enough Pakistan have a more English-style attack these days; Mohammad Amir and Asif aren't as quick as Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis nor do they reverse-swing the ball as much - their strengths lie elsewhere.
The one bowler who does have a bit of pace and can reverse swing the ball is Gul and he remains a doubt for the Test due to a hamstring niggle.
To my mind, Pakistan are more suited to the bowling conditions at Edgbaston than the Oval so if England can get enough runs on the board they should be able to outgun their opponents and win the game.
After two comprehensive defeats, Pakistan have no option but to select Mohammad Yousuf for this Test - even if he is half-ready and half-fit.
But for jet-lag the former captain would have played at Edgbaston, so now he's got a few more net sessions under his belt and has enjoyed a bit of a hit against Worcester, he'll be feeling a lot better about things.
Clearly, he's not going to be the best-prepared person that's ever played a Test but he will be in better fettle than he was a week ago and he should bolster the middle-order.
Kamran Akmal also returns to the Pakistan side this week - once again just a single game after being dropped. The wicketkeeper would do well to grab his chance in the limelight. Each time we've seen him play in England up until now he's had a shocker because he's struggled when the ball has swung in the air after passing the bat.
It tends to do that less at the Oval than at Lord's or Trent Bridge so he may well find the conditions a bit more to his liking.
Zulqarnain Haider's glovework is not significantly better but it's a shame he has been ruled out by injury because I felt he showed a lot of spunk and resilience on debut at Edgbaston. His second innings 88 should be the template for Pakistan in terms of grit and determination.
Such is England's confidence going into the game that the selectors chose to name their team on Sunday - a surprise only because it went against what has become normal procedure under the Andrew Strauss-Andy Flower regime.
I can't see it happening too often in the future simply because Strauss generally likes to keep his cards close to his chest.
England's football head coach, Fabio Capello, got a lot of stick in the World Cup for keeping his selection in the dark for too long thereby giving his team less time to prepare as a unit.
It's somewhat different for this cricket team; throughout the summer the players have had a fair idea of who will be in the side and, if necessary, are told privately well before the coin toss.
By sticking with the same XI the selectors have shown an immense amount of faith in Alastair Cook, who may well benefit from his semi-final knock for Essex on Friends Provident t20 Finals Day.
I hope he goes out and plays as positively and aggressively at the Oval as he did on Saturday and puts thoughts about technique largely to one side.
I don't believe he's one of England's best six batsmen at the moment but, given enough chances, he will come good at some stage. If those chances run out soon, however, I would have no problem promoting Jonathan Trott to open.
The 29-year-old needs 78 more runs at the Oval to take his overall Test tally past 1,000 in fewer innings than Kevin Pietersen needed to reach the same mark.
While he has scored heavily against some modest attacks - his 226 against Bangladesh at Lord's springs to mind - he has also performed against some decent bowlers, most noticeably against Australia on debut last summer.
Trott rather blew up over the winter in South Africa, where he averaged 27.14 across four Tests, but technically he is still very strong and tough at the crease. In short, he looks a very good player to me each time I see him and that does bode well for the Ashes.