Thatscricket - News - Bowlers fitness major worry for Eng

Published: Sunday, January 4, 2004, 18:00 [IST]
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London:England are set to gamble on their fast bowlers' fitness when their West Indies' tour squad is announced in London on Tuesday.

Young quicks James Anderson, Stephen Harmison and Simon Jones are all vying for spots in England's 16-man party as they aim for their first Test series win in the Caribbean in over 30 years.

But whether the trio can last the distance of a tour comprising four Tests and seven One-day Internationals remains to be seen.

Anderson missed the first half of England's pre-Christmas Test trip to the subcontinent in Bangladesh with knee trouble while Harmison was absent from the following 1-0 series defeat in Sri Lanka because of a side strain.

And Jones has been out of all first-class cricket for over a year since injuring his cruciate knee ligament fielding against Australia at Brisbane.

Also in contention for a pace bowling place is experienced Somerset seamer Richard Johnson whose career has been blighted by injury problems.

But chairman of selectors David Graveney said, "We're picking this squad seven weeks before the tour starts and all the lads will be working hard in the build-up at Lilleshall (where the National Sports Centre is located) so there will be more than enough time to assess any injuries."

Picking Glamorgan's Jones, whose left-arm pace bowler father Jeff, was a member of the last England side to win a Test series in the Caribbean back in 1968, would represent a huge gamble after he managed just three county reserve matches last season.

However, England 'A's brief tour of Malaysia and India, which starts on January 26 does offer Jones a chance to prove his fitness.

Sussex's James Kirtley, a Sri Lanka tourist, is not as quick as his rivals but tends to be less injury prone and England could also opt for Yorkshire workhorse Matthew Hoggard.

During the past 12 months England have used more than a dozen new-ball pairings in a bid to find a settled duo to replace the combination of Andrew Caddick and Darren Gough.

In last year's home series against South Africa, Gough announced his retirement from Test cricket, a series Caddick missed with a back injury.

Caddick has refused to rule himself out of the tour and although the New-Zealand born quick has taken 234 wickets at 29.91 in 62 Tests his inclusion would demonstrate just how thin England's bowling resources are.

All these problems have led to pace bowling all-rounder Andrew Flintoff having to get through more overs than England would like and it was no surprise when the big-hitting Lancastrian aggravated an old groin injury in Sri Lanka.

Off-spinner Robert Croft's retirement from International cricket earlier this week looks to have eased any selection dilemmas regarding slow bowling with left-armer Ashley Giles and off-spinner Gareth Batty set to retain their places.

England's batting appears to pick itself and captain Michael Vaughan, together with the rest of the top order, will be looking for easier pickings against the West Indies after being tormented by Sri Lanka off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan.

However, there are concerns over Graham Thorpe whose availability to tour has been called into question following a police investigation into his part in an incident at his ex-wife's house on December 26.

He has previously come home early from England tours for personal reasons and after saying he was available to go to Australia in 2002-03 the Surrey left-hander changed his mind and withdrew before the squad left.

Croft bids adieu to international cricket

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