Nothing is ever simple when preparing for Ashes campaigns and England's carefully laid plans were disrupted earlier than usual yesterday. Ian Bell, who has emerged as a key member of the middle order, will miss the rest of this summer's Tests against Pakistan with a foot injury.
Although he is expected to make a full recovery well before the tour of Australia begins in late October, he is likely to be short of batting practice against top-class bowling by the time England begin their defence of the urn in late November. Bell broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot – the one nearest the little toe – while fielding against Bangladesh last Saturday and had routine surgery on Monday night.
It is a longer-term injury than was first feared and there is no certainty that Bell will be fit in time to play in the one-day series against Pakistan on Friday10 September. With England desperate to have a settled batting unit before the opening match of the Ashes in Brisbane on 25 November, it is at least a distraction.
Andy Flower, the team's coach, said yesterday: "This is very unfortunate for Ian because he looks in very good form and he looks confident about what he is doing, so that is really bad luck, but so be it. He had a really good winter, scoring important runs for us at important times, and I've got great hopes for him in the future. It would be much too early to speculate about who would be batting in the first Test in Brisbane."
But Flower will already have pencilled in Bell for the Gabba, possibly as high as three. Since being recalled in the 2009 Ashes campaign, Bell has grown in stature and maturity, demonstrated by the innings he played under pressure in South Africa last winter. But the last time he came across high-calibre bowling was against South Africa in January.
His absence means that England will be spared a selection debate if they continue against Pakistan with the contentious strategy of playing six batsmen. Eoin Morgan, a gifted player but one who failed to cash in during his two Tests against Bangladesh, looks set to be retained.