Byline: PETER HAYTER
DUNCAN FLETCHER'S reputation as a cricketing miracle-worker is about to face its stiffest examination - in the shape of the Test career of Ian Salisbury.
Fletcher's record of turning water into wine during his brief tenure as England coach is mightily impressive.
The soft-spoken Zimbabwean has made Test cricketers out of untried talent like Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan. He has unleashed the devil in Andy Caddick and the dazzler in Darren Gough and he has squeezed the extra mile out of Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe.
He has re-fired Dominic Cork, found something to work with in Graeme Hick, Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard and helped transform Craig White from a pale shadow of a Test all-rounder into the genuine article.
With the help of captain Nasser Hussain, he has created a dressing-room environment in which the work ethic thrives alongside mutual support and encouragement.
Five wins from nine matches in 2000, including two series victories and a rubber against West Indies for the first time in 31 years, is tangible proof that Fletcher can achieve collective, as well as individual, progress.
Now, however, for something completely different. His next task is to make an international-class wicket-taker out of the 30-year-old Surrey leg-spinner whom many believe is no better than his Test record of 19 wickets at an average of 70.84 indicates.
As Salisbury was summoned to bowl his first spell in the Trent Bridge Test against South Africa in 1998, sections of the crowd unfairly began to barrack before he delivered a ball. When short-leg fielder Robin Smith departed the scene to don shinpads and helmet, someone unkindly suggested he was nipping off to check his life insurance.
And when Salisbury was selected for this winter tour of Pakistan, some observers feared England were simply asking for trouble, while others wondered whether the central contract offered to Lancashire's Chris Schofield was worth the paper it was written on.
Salisbury's team-mates are desperate for him to come to the party for England have been crying out for a top-quality leg-spinner to help them compete with the best sides in the world.
But, on the evidence of yesterday's action on the fourth day of the First Test against Pakistan in Lahore, he has an awful long road still to travel.
Salisbury and left-arm spinner Giles had the perfect opportunity to impress yesterday on a pitch taking more and more spin against opponents interested in nothing more than avoiding the follow-on and saving the game.
Giles did so, finishing with 3-97 from 48 patient overs. Salisbury, with 0-52 from 20, did not.
The situation was crying out for Salisbury to give the ball air, to trust his ability to lure the batsmen into false strokes coming forward. …