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Depleted England aim to break home series hex

india Updated: Jul 13, 2006 14:40 IST
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England will attempt to win its first series at home against Pakistan since 1982 by starting with a third-choice captain and possibly just one of the five bowlers that helped take the Ashes.

England plays Pakistan in a four-Test series starting Thursday at Lord's. Only fast bowler Steve Harmison is likely to be left from the 2005 attack that beat Australia 2-1 to win the urn after a 17-year gap.

Andrew Flintoff (ankle), Simon Jones (knee) and Ashley Giles (hip) have all been ruled out, while Matthew Hoggard will have a fitness test on Thursday morning on an injured hand. Flintoff will be back for the second Test from July 27. He'll replace Andrew Strauss as captain, with first-choice Michael Vaughan out of the five-Test Ashes series, starting November 23, because of knee surgery.

"Ideally, as a captain you want to know you're in charge for a long period of time, but that's not the case with me and it's because of injuries we're in that situation," Strauss said. "There's nothing you can do about it."

Strauss said Hoggard's practise session went well on Wednesday. "It was encouraging in everything he did, but we want to give him as long as possible to recover," he said.

The last leadership role for Strauss, about to become his country's 77th Test captain, was overseeing England's 5-0 one-day series whitewash by Sri Lanka. Harmison made his return from shin splints in that series, but was hit for 97 runs off 10 overs to record the worst bowling figures by an Englishman. "It is important to divorce the two games -- the one-day game and the Test game -- and I don't think we're that far off in the Test game," Strauss said. "If we go in with that attitude, that confidence, that belief, then there's no reason why it shouldn't happen."

If Hoggard is ruled out, fast bowlers Liam Plunkett and Jon Lewis are likely to be selected alongside left-arm spinner Monty Panesar. Only Harmison will have taken more than 15 Test wickets. Pakistan's bowling lineup is also weakened -- Mohammad Asif (elbow) is out of the first Test, with Rana Naved-ul-Hasan (groin) and Shoaib Akhtar (ankle) possibly missing the entire series. Fast bowler Mohammad Sami has overcome an injured knee and will lead an attack that contains legspinners Danish Kaneria and Shahid Afridi.

Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer also said opener Shoaib Malik has an injured elbow and may not play.

"He's struggling," Woolmer said. "He had a cortisone injection last night so it depends what happens to it as a reaction." Pakistan is now second behind Australia in the ICC test rankings after recently beating England, India and Sri Lanka. England drop to third following a drawn series with both India and Sri Lanka. "It doesn't matter where you are in the rankings, every series is a new one and if you play good cricket you will win," said Pakistan captain Inzamam Ul-Haq. "It is good for the team because this is a team that is coming up. It is always good for the team if you win a series away."

With every series bringing the much-anticipated Ashes tour of Australia closer, Inzamam adopted the psychological underdog position.

"If England don't win against Pakistan, then (winning) against Australia in Australia is going to be a serious problem," Inzamam said.

The squads:

England: Andrew Strauss (captain), Marcus Trescothick, Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Geraint Jones, Liam Plunkett, Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, Monty Panesar, Sajid Mahmood, Jon Lewis.

Pakistan: Inzamam-ul-Haq (captain), Shoaib Malik, Imran Farhat, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Sami, Danish Kaneria, Umar Gul, Salman Butt, Faisal Iqbal.

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