As blood spilled on the carpet yesterday, England's new one-day plans lay in tatters alongside it. Ian Bell, his one-day career about to be reinvented as an opening batsman, top-edged an attempted pull into his chin.
It is an occupational hazard for batsmen, although not usually in the indoor nets receiving throw-downs from the fielding coach, Richard Halsall. Blood streamed from a deep wound and Bell was taken to hospital, where he received 10 stitches and had an X-ray, which revealed a possible non-displaced fracture. He was in clear discomfort, not least because of the shock, but was smiling as he came back to the ground later.
It looked as though England would need yet another opening batsman to accompany their captain, Alastair Cook, at the start of the one-day part of the summer. England have three matches against West Indies plus a Twenty20, which is followed by five ODIs against Australia.
Bell remains a doubt until this morning for the game at the Rose Bowl. If he fails to make it, Ravi Bopara will be promoted. Bell will be anxious to resume his one-day international career, which might have been over until Kevin Pietersen decided to retire. Bell, tried in the middle order last summer, was omitted for most of the winter and the team seemed to have moved on.
His mishap yesterday was a worry that England would have preferred not to have. They already have their hands full with a West Indies squad that appears to be bristling with confidence. England, however, have won their last five series at home, where they continue to be a different proposition from the side that so often struggles abroad. This is also the first season in this country in which one-day internationals are being played with two new balls at the start of each innings.
Cook, while lamenting the loss of Pietersen, was hardly dwelling on it. "Yes it's disappointing but we move on and replace him," Cook said. "We've changed a couple of times over the last couple of years and the job at the top of the order will be interesting now we've got these two new balls in English conditions. Clearly we need people with good techniques and with myself and Belly at the top we can do that."
Given the general nature of English pitches and the weather so far this year, there is every likelihood that they will be sporting in the bowlers' favour. If England have not made a discreet request of groundsmen they ought to have done. It is their best chance of ensuring that West Indies' bravura hitters do not make an impression.
England's bowlers might be a handful for any opponents but on flat surfaces when batsmen can hit through the line it becomes harder for even the most skilled manipulators.
The bullish mood in the West Indies squad is not matched by recent results. Although they drew 2-2 at home with Australia, the world's top-ranked one-day side, they have not won an away series, except against Bangladesh, for five years. The odds are narrowing rapidly but England rightly remain favourites.
On being mistakenly informed that West Indies had nosed ahead of England with the bookmakers, Darren Sammy, their captain, said: "Is that so? I've not heard favourites and the West Indies in the same sentence for a long time. But England in England is always difficult. We're not going to take it for granted."
England can expect to use their entire squad in the next month of one-dayers but today must decide whether to pack their side with seamers at the expense of a shorter tail. But that is a dangerous business.
Rose Bowl: Details for the first ODI
First one-day international:
AN Cook (capt), RS Bopara, IJL Trott, EJG Morgan, JM Bairstow, C Kieswetter (wkt), SM Patel, S CJ Broad, GP Swann, ST Finn, JM Anderson.
DJG Sammy (capt), CH Gayle, LMP Simmons, DM Bravo, MN Samuels, DJ Bravo, KA Pollard, DE Ramdin (wkt), AD Russell, SP Narine, R Rampaul.
HDPK Dharmasena, RA Kettleborough
10.30am-7pm, Sky Sports 1. Highlights: Channel 5, 7-8pm.
Mainly dry, with sunny intervals. Chance of showers after lunch. Maximum temperature: 16C
England 8-11; W Indies 11-10
- More about:
- Alastair Cook
- Caribbean Islands (west Indies)
- Kevin Pietersen
- Twenty20 Cup