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England braced for first serious test
February 20, 2003 17:14 IST
England's World Cup credentials will undergo serious examination for the first time when they bid to end a five-match losing streak against Pakistan on Saturday.
The team has struggled with injury and illness and, following far-from-convincing victories over Namibia and the Netherlands, will take on 1999 runners-up Pakistan under the lights at Newlands with plenty to prove.
It is more than two years since England's last limited-overs win over Pakistan, Andrew Flintoff hitting a brilliant 60-ball 84 in Karachi to help his side to the seventh highest successful run-chase in one-day history.
Nasser Hussain, Graeme Hick and Graham Thorpe also made fifties as England chased down Pakistan's total of 304 for nine with 16 balls to spare.
Having forfeited their Group A match against Zimbabwe, England need to beat two of Pakistan, India and world champions Australia to prevent a first-round exit for the second successive World Cup.
To avoid that fate, it is vital captain Hussain recovers from a stiff neck to lead the side after missing the unconvincing 55-run victory over Namibia.
"The three big ones are coming up now, but we've played two and won two so, if we can continue that, we've got a great chance of qualifying for the Super Six," stand-in captain Alec Stewart said after the Namibia match.
"We're a pretty closely-knit squad and the happenings of the last few weeks have brought us together," he added. "When we have a few hardships, then we rally around and support each other."
In Hussain's absence, England lacked spark in the field against Namibia, for whom Jan-Berry Burger threatened a shock win with an inspired knock of 85.
Hussain is likely to return against Pakistan, but England's two spinners, Ian Blackwell and Ashley Giles, are injury doubts.
Blackwell was scheduled to have an MRI scan on Thursday to gauge the seriousness of a back injury suffered while batting against Namibia, and Giles is still being treated for tonsillitis.
If neither recovers, Michael Vaughan will be England's sole spinner at a ground where West Indies slow bowlers Carl Hooper and Chris Gayle restricted South Africa in the tournament opener on February 9.
The toss will be vital as only seven one-day matches at Newlands have been won by the team batting second, and England have never felt confident chasing runs under the lights.
Fast bowler Andrew Caddick, who is yet to take a wicket with the new ball, can expect to be targeted by a talented Pakistan side who are in good form, despite losing their opening match heavily to Australia.
Fast bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Wasim Akram routed Namibia for 84 and the minnows' coach Dougie Brown will have warned England that Wasim is bowling well and looks determined to enjoy a successful swansong in his fifth World Cup.
England have not beaten Pakistan in a World Cup match since 1983 and an extension of that run on Saturday would be a serious blow to their current campaign.
But an England win would give the side a significant boost after their recent battering in Australia, leaving Pakistan to beat India to ensure their progression in the tournament.
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