Cricket: Injuries put Tudor in front line

England's preparations for second Test against South Africa are thrown into disarray by fitness doubts over Silverwood and Mullally
Click to follow
ENGLAND ARRIVED here and found their preparation for next week's second Test suddenly marred by injury. Alan Mullally and Chris Silverwood have both been ruled out of today's four-day match against the KwaZulu- Natal Dolphins, leaving England a frontline bowler light for the current match and a major headache for later, should neither recover in time for the second Test in Port Elizabeth.

Injuries to bowlers are endemic in cricket, though neither the side strain suffered by Mullally or the soreness in Silverwood's left ankle, are thought to be serious. According to the team physiotherapist, Dean Conway, both will see specialists this morning, though he stressed that this was more "precaution than necessity".

Mullally, who took 3 for 80 in the first Test in Johannesburg, has been feeling his side since the game in Bloemfontein almost three weeks ago. He also felt it against South Africa at the Wanderers, since when he has not bowled a ball.

Apparently the lay-off, especially over the last 48 hours, has improved matters substantially. Even so, Conway felt it was foolish to risk it over the next four days.

Silverwood's problem, which he felt in the nets prior to playing in Wednesday's match in Lenasia, has also been judged unworthy of further risk. It is unfortunate timing for the young fast bowler whose good showing on a slow pitch in his first appearance on the tour since replacing the injured Dean Headley, obviously put him in the frame for the next Test.

"We're very disappointed," said Duncan Fletcher, the England coach. "Chris bowled sharply in the one-day game in both spells and we wanted to look at him over four days."

Had he been fit, Silverwood would have played in place of Andy Caddick, who will take the new ball with Alex Tudor. Before big Test matches, the rule of thumb is that batsmen play and bowlers rest and whatever temptations are laid in front of Nasser Hussain, Caddick must not be overbowled.

In team sports, one man's disappointment is another's opportunity and it falls once more for Tudor to show he is still the same man who bowled so impressively against Australia in the Perth Test a year ago.

"It is important in this game for Alex Tudor to get up and show how good a player he is," Fletcher said. "He is a main frontline bowler and it is a great opportunity for him to bowl a lot, something he hasn't done so far."

It could be painful viewing; on the evidence of Wednesday's match, Tudor looked as if he was running into a force 10 gale. Unless it all suddenly "clicks", his distinctly medium-pace trundlers do not look as if they could knock over a custard tart, let alone South Africa's top order.

His four month lay-off, after an osteochondral defect in his left knee (a roughening of the bone cartilage) was found and operated on. It has not helped, however, and the progress most 22-year-olds can take for granted at this stage of their careers has simply not happened. Although apparently he is now free of pain and symptoms, his learning curve has been interrupted.

Another problem has been the lack of opportunity to get overs under his belt out in the middle. Without that, his rhythm has suffered, which in turn has eroded his confidence. It is a vicious circle which is only usually broken by taking wickets.

That is a tonic Phil Tufnell, the only other frontline bowler, could do with as well. The left-arm spinner has not played for three weeks and just in case the surface in Port Elizabeth is not as seam friendly as expected, he needs to get back into the groove.

Apart from Andy Flintoff, who Fletcher wants to see given a decent workload with the ball, and with Gavin Hamilton not included, the back-up bowling of Chris Adams, Darren Maddy and Michael Vaughan, is fairly friendly. But then so is the opposition.

After playing combined sides earlier in the tour, England find themselves confronted by the Durban equivalent of the Brady Bunch. With their three Test stars, Shaun Pollock, Jonty Rhodes and Lance Klusener, plus their opening batsman Andrew Hudson, all missing, the Dolphins have selected the 16-year-old Hashim Amla, to play alongside his 20-year-old brother Ahmed. Also included but unlikely to play is the 17-year-old seam bowler Jomo Mbili.

The potential embarrassment quotient is high for both sides: the visitors if they lose; the home side if they get thrashed. The compromise, of course, would be if it were to rain, which it did last time - for four days.