Back injury may end Irani's England tour

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The Independent Online
The fall-out from England's one-day defeat has started already. With the first Test match against Zimbabwe just a day away, England's minimal squad of 14 may yet be depleted further as Ronnie Irani yesterday went for a scan on an injured back.

With the Test so close, a quick diagnosis was obviously what was needed. Unfortunately, the only scanner up to the job of investigating what is wrong with one of England's finest happens to be in Harare. Irani may, in the words of the England coach, David Lloyd, be a "pivotal figure" in England's set-up, but he is obviously not too precious, after being sent hot-foot to the nation's capital by car, a hot five-hour journey that should have at least stirred up his symptoms.

Irani who played in Sunday's debacle in Bulawayo, has suffered back problems before and he experienced a twinge in England's recent game against Matabeleland, managing just 2.2 overs in the second innings.

Quite how a player can be fit enough to bowl one day, and rushed off on a long trip to hospital the next almost defies logic. But then England abroad always manage to confound even their most grizzled observers.

Irani, who is a spirited cove, may have thought he was doing the right thing by passing himself fit. If he was a 100 per cent, then fine. If not, it was a reckless act that quite probably cost England the game. Albeit a game they had no right to win.

It was in his first full season with Essex in 1994 that Irani first had problems. A stress fracture - a common injury among pace bowlers - was diagnosed, a problem he overcame with rest and a radically remodelled action: a chest-on bowling style that relies solely on the arm to generate pace and one that has looked fairly lightweight on the slow batting tracks so far experienced on this tour.

Should he have to fly home, England are likely to replace like for like, and call up another all-rounder - a role David Lloyd has stressed is not just a disguise for a seventh batsman.

However, with Mark Ealham injured, Adam Hollioake or Craig White are the obvious candidates, though frustrated masochists may plump for the much chastised Chris Lewis.

Hollioake, who has just returned from captaining a successful England A side in Australia, would probably be favourite. Like Irani though, his bowling can be unpenetrative and expensive, and he would leans towards being a seventh batsman should he arrive on the next British Airways flight out of Gatwick.

That leaves White and Lewis, who offer a stronger bowling option in a team that needs something snappy to complement Darren Gough.

Whatever the outcome, neither Irani nor his replacement are likely to be available in time for Test selection, and with Jack Russell so far surplus to requirements, England will essentially be picking their Test team from just 12 fit men. A position that has left them open to further embarrassment before a Test ball has been bowled, should further injury beset them at practice today.

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