Alastair Cook"s century tops it as England struggle

Ton-up Cook back in the old routine but England's middle men get all in a spin

Alastair Cook again carried England's batting on his broad shoulders here on Wednesday as their misfiring middle order suffered a worrying failure with the first Test looming.

The man who was so dominant throughout last year has started this one in the same relentless fashion and he added to his 76 in the first warm-up game with an unfussy hundred that saved England from embarrassment against a PCB XI.

Ton-derful: Cook is congratulated by Matt Prior after reaching three figures

Ton-derful: Cook is congratulated by Matt Prior after reaching three figures

Cook’s 133 – which only ended when he tried to force the pace ahead of
Andrew Strauss’s declaration – contrasted sharply with his team-mates,
as leg-spinner Yasir Shah proved particularly hard to handle.

Not one of Jonathan Trott, Kevin
Pietersen, Ian Bell and Eoin Morgan has recorded a half-century in three
innings so far and England may be concerned Yasir, with just a single
one-day international to his name, should account for three of them.

Trott was the exception, playing no
stroke to the pace of Mohammad Talha, but the age-old problems England
have encountered against spin in sub-continental conditions resurfaced
against a 25-year-old on the fringes of the Pakistan side.

Tormentor in chief: Mohammad Talha (left) celebrates after dismissing Prior

Tormentor in chief: Mohammad Talha (left) celebrates after dismissing Prior

This final warm-up game at the ICC
academy ground before Tuesday’s first Test may have been played on the
same wicket that was used for the opening game, so that in effect it was
a fourth-day pitch, but conditions played little part in England’s
struggles.

Pietersen and Morgan, in particular,
have lacked fluency so far while Bell may have been unlucky to be
adjudged lbw second ball when attempting to sweep Yasir.

Long hard slog: Cook ran out of partners as England failed to reach 300

Long hard slog: Cook ran out of partners as England failed to reach 300

Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal, who is now
said to have added a third variation – the ‘teesra’ – to his
off-spinning repertoire, will fancy his chances next week.

As batting coach Graham Gooch said
afterwards, however, this is no time to panic. ‘One or two of them will
be disappointed, but they’ve got to stay strong mentally and believe,’
said Gooch. ‘We know these things can happen. It’s not time for them to
start changing the way they think.’

England’s record run-scorer did
concede that his charges will have to deal with spin if they are to win
the first of three away series in Asia. ‘The spinners are going to be on
early so we’ve got to be able to cope,’ added Gooch.

Sweeping up: Cook made England's score look more respectable

Sweeping up: Cook made England's score look more respectable

No such worries appear to apply to
Cook, who seems destined to overtake Gooch’s record tally of Test runs.
‘It’s all down to his strength of character,’ said Gooch. ‘He’s found a
style that works for him and he’s got into his rhythm here quickly.’

Today, with the PCB XI 23 without
loss overnight in reply to England’s 269 for nine declared, will be all
about whether Chris Tremlett or Graham Onions can do enough to dislodge
Steven Finn, rested here, from the final place in the England Test team.

Cooking up a storm: England's vice-captain starts the Test series in great form

Cooking up a storm: England's vice-captain starts the Test series in great form

Mervyn Westfield, the former Essex
fast bowler, stands trial at the Old Bailey today accused of
spot-fixing in county cricket. Westfield, 23, is alleged to have
accepted corrupt payments to bowl badly in Pro40 matches against Durham and Somerset in September 2009.