England will play one practice match at the famous Lahore Gymkhana Club this week before taking on two games against a side loosely titled Pakistan A. They will be played under lights towards the end of each game but the recent experience of heavy dew ruining floodlit matches in Lahore means that they will largely be daylight games.
The tour manager, David Graveney, stressed yesterday how grateful he was to Majid Khan, secretary of the Pakistan Cricket Board, for giving England the chance to play these preparatory games. Cricket relations between the two countries, so often sensitive in the past, are better, perhaps, than they ever have been and the 'cultural lectures' given to the England teams in Manchester recently were probably superfluous.
The talk about life in the West Indies, designed to avoid the social faux pas reported from Zimbabwe last winter, has been described by some present as a farce which managed to offend players of mixed race in the England team and to tell no one anything they did not already know. The England and Wales Cricket Board's press spokesman, Brian Murgatroyd, admitted: ``The talk didn't go quite as we planned. . . we learnt valuable lessons from it.''
There ought not to be too many pitfalls, cricketing or diplomatic, during the 19-day trip which starts today. England's form in home internationals has been excellent: since Australia beat them in all three Texaco games in 1993, they have won 12 out of 14 completed games against New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies, India, Pakistan and Australia. Overseas, however, on tours where first-class cricket has had to be given priority in selection, they have been more or less hopeless, second best to everyone except New Zealand in recent times.
The team departing today is purpose built and quite capable of winning on the slow pitches of Sharjah, even against cricketers from India and Pakistan who treat the venue as a second home. Only five of England's team will also be going on the main tour to the West Indies after Christmas and everyone except Alec Stewart (34), Matthew Fleming (32), Graeme Hick (31), Ben Hollioake (20) and Ashley Giles (24) is aged between 25 and 30. These are players in the prime of the one-day cricketing life: experienced but young enough to be ambitious.
The chief interest for those planning ahead will undoubtedly lie in the performance of the captain. Adam Hollioake will probably lead England in the World Cup and he is one of four people who could take them to Australia next winter. Mike Atherton will do so, no doubt, if England win in the West Indies after Christmas. If they do not, Hollioake, Nasser Hussain and Stewart are the sole current occupants of the official shortlist.
Hollioake himself is taking his future step by step. ``Whatever game I go into is the immediate priority for me,'' he says. ``I always take every game I play equally seriously whether it's a Test match or a club game for Send in the Surrey League. I'd like to prove I'm good enough to bat well for England in Test cricket at number six and take useful wickets. I'd like to prove I'm one of the best one-day players in the world. But most of all I want to win every game I play for England.''
He takes a growing experience of captaincy to Sharjah where he has played ``five or six games'' on two pre-season tours for Surrey. In Lanzarote he discussed tactics with David Graveney and David Lloyd, who will be his co-selectors. ``We agreed that we have got so many all-rounders that the make-up of the side shouldn't be a problem,'' he said.
``Conditions are likely to be similar to the Oval in many ways. They're likely to be 290-300 sort of pitches and they won't turn much, which will suit us against sides like India and Pakistan. The key will probably be sharp fielding and straight bowling.''
Hollioake's captaincy philosophy is to encourage his players to play their natural game fearlessly. He admits that it has come unstuck often enough when interpreted too literally by Surrey, whose approach last season, his first in official charge of the county, was sometimes reckless. Nor did the team always please the umpires, one of whom said when he retired at the end of last season that the thing he was most looking forward to was not having to umpire in Surrey matches.
Hollioake denies any charge of encouraging the wrong sort of aggression and insists that more often than not the attacking approach will pay off. He has been told to read the words of past masters like Richie Benaud and Mike Brearley but admits that he has not yet got round to doing so. He has done well enough so far with the more general management handbook How To Win Friends And Influence People and adds, with suitable diffidence: ``I think I know how to handle people. Basically I try to get them to be confident; to have a go rather than die wondering; but also to be honest with themselves.''
Sadly, television coverage of the series in Sharjah from Dec 11 to 19 will be limited to news clips. Sky could not agree terms with WorldTel's wheeler-dealer Mark Mascarenhas and the BBC, offered the highlights for a mere £70,000, failed to exploit the chance to show some winter commitment to cricket for once.
Dec 2: Arrive in Lahore. Dec 4: Practice match involving squad and invited local players. Dec 5: v Pakistan A (Lahore). Dec 7: v Pakistan A (Lahore). Dec 8: Travel to Sharjah. Dec 11: v India. Dec 13: v West Indies. Dec 15: v Pakistan. Dec 19: Final of Four Nations Tournament (if qualified). Dec 20: Return to London.
PARTY: A J Hollioake (Surrey, capt), A D Brown (Surrey), N V Knight (Warwickshire), A J Stewart (Surrey, wicketkeeper), G A Hick (Worcestershire), G P Thorpe (Surrey), B C Hollioake (Surrey), M A Ealham (Kent), M V Fleming (Kent), D R Brown (Warwickshire), R D B Croft (Glamorgan), A F Giles (Warwickshire), D W Headley (Kent), P J Martin (Lancashire). Tour manager: D A Graveney. Coach: D Lloyd. Physio: W P Morton. Press Officer: B H Murgatroyd.