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England's problems mount with six-wicket defeat


LAHORE, Nov 8 (Cricinfo): England slumped to an embarrassing six-wicket defeat, shortly before tea on the third and final day at Bagh-e-Jinnah, as Hasan Raza, Pakistan A's captain, confirmed his burgeoning maturity with a fine unbeaten 71. Raza added 129 for the fourth wicket with Shahid Yousuf, and England's ignominous day was completed when Imran Farhat carved the winning runs past point off Andrew Flintoff.
It's been a bad 24 hours for England. As their captain, Michael Vaughan, looked on glumly from the sidelines, awaiting the results of the scan on his twisted knee, his bowlers were given the run-around from first ball to last. Pakistan A's nightwatchman, Shahid Nazir, set the tempo with an uninhibited innings of 43 from 31 balls, and though Flintoff chipped in with all three wickets to fall, the support bowlers were unable to cause any problems on a docile surface.
Steve Harmison was at least hostile, striking two painful blows in his opening spell, one of which caused the opener, Farhat, to retire hurt with an injured index finger. But after getting out of jail in their first warm-up at Rawalpindi, England got their comeuppance second-time around.
But Pakistan A were the team with the most to prove in this match. Mohammad Asif wants a return to Test colours, after a solitary outing against Australia earlier this year, and he did his utmost to ensure that would happen with a fine ten-wicket haul. Meanwhile Raza, who was reputedly the youngest Test cricketer in history when he made his debut as a 14-year-old in 1996-97, confirmed that - nine long years later - he is finally ready for higher honours. His unbeaten 71 included four fours and three sixes, the largest of which landed on the roof of the press tent, but common-sense was his watchword throughout, as he led the pursuit of 245 for victory.
The writing was on the wall for England from the very first hour, as the nightwatchman Nazir climbed into the new ball with an alacrity that England have been trying - and failing - to match all tour. He came to the crease late last night following the dismissal of Taufeeq Umar, and made his presence felt in no uncertain terms this morning, swinging the bat with the sort of insouciant abandon that characterises Muttiah Muralitharan's best slogs. He hit four fours and two sixes in all - all of them hefty heaves across the line - the last of which plopped over the head of a helpless Harmison at deep fine-leg.

Pakistan A 138 and 246 for 4 (Raza 71*, Shahid 57) beat England XI 126 and 256 by six wickets