Anderson's ills cloud net gains for England

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The Independent Online

The tour is in its infancy and the first Test against Sri Lanka is still 11 days away but if yesterday's practice session is a gauge, England's bowling attack is beginning to take shape.

Competition among the pacemen is fierce, with Matthew Hoggard and Ryan Sidebottom showing the youngsters how to make a positive impression. The Yorkshire-born pair were by far the best seamers during a vigorous net session at a hot and sweaty Premadasa Stadium.

Leicestershire's Stuart Broad, understandably, is finding his way but, worryingly, a sore back curtailed the bowling of James Anderson. The sight of a laboured Anderson moping around the practice area can only have increased the need for Stephen Harmison to join the squad from South Africa. Harmison appears to have done everything England wanted him to do while on trial with the Highveld Lions and he is expected to arrive in Sri Lanka on Tuesday. But his selection will only be confirmed once the selectors have had a full discussion with the bowler and the England bowling coach, Ottis Gibson, who has monitored his progress in South Africa.

If selected Harmison will miss the first day of England's opening match here but the good nature of the Sri Lankans, who will allow every member of England's squad to participate in the three-day game, should ensure that he bowls at some stage. With preparation time limited, England need all their seamers to find form and fitness.

Kirk Russell, the England physiotherapist, was keen to play down Anderson's condition, saying the 25-year-old had only complained of stiffness after a gym session earlier in the day and that he often has this problem at the start of a tour.

But the Lancastrian's lacklustre body language suggested that he was worried. Anderson pulled up on two or three occasions during a brief and unconvincing spell before retiring to the sidelines. The fast bowler then had a 20-minute bat in which he did nothing more than slog and look totally uninterested. It was the display of an angry man with other, possibly more worrying things on his mind.

Fortunately for Anderson, Michael Vaughan, the England captain, had returned to the team hotel, but the display would not have gone unnoticed. Peter Moores, England's head coach, cannot have been impressed. It is not the first occasion on which Anderson, who suffered a stress fracture in his back in 2006, has acted in such a way. During a net session in the one-day series in Australia earlier this year he behaved in a similar manner. Then, it was the prelude to him returning home with a back injury, a decision that ultimately allowed him to play in the World Cup.

Anderson's attitude was in stark contrast to that of Sidebottom and Hoggard. Sidebottom is an impressive man. Occasionally, after bowling a bad ball, he has a petulant kick at the ground but this is because he sets himself very high standards. Hoggard is just a curmudgeonly fast bowler. If he ever played with a smile on his face it would be time to worry.

Hoggard, on his 11th full England tour, knows how important it is to make an early impression. After playing in just two of England's seven home Tests in 2007 the fast bowler knows he has to show Moores and Vaughan he is still capable of leading the attack.

"I believe that I need to prove myself every time I bowl," said Hoggard. "You can't just rest on your laurels, you have to keep on improving, you have to keep on performing. It is nice to bowl well in the nets, to feel that the ball is coming out nicely. We have only two warm-up games before the first Test and three practice sessions before the first warm-up game, so it is good to hit the ground running.

"Michael Vaughan and the selectors have a tough decision to make [on the bowlers] before the first Test. Thankfully I don't have to make that decision. All I can do is keep on trying hard in the nets and pushing my name forward. With the set of young bowlers we have everyone is under pressure to perform and if they don't hopefully there is someone ready to come in, which is a useful place for English cricket to be in."

Hoggard has missed Tests through injury since England's last tour here in 2003-04 but he is yet to be dropped.

"That tour here took me to my lowest ebb," he said. "I was replaced by James Kirtley, a like for like bowler, and if that happens it means that you are not doing your job properly. I left here thinking that I may never get picked for England again.

"Fortunately, though, the selectors went for me in the Test series that followed [away to the West Indies] and I was able to put a run of 40-odd Test matches together. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since 2003-04 and I have played a lot more on the subcontinent and grown as a bowler. I am confident that I can perform here."

England will need a lot more Yorkshire and a lot less Lancashire, no matter the size of Anderson's disappointment, if they are to return home for Christmas as winners.

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