Car crash injury casts doubt over Butcher's Test place

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The Independent Online

Mark Butcher's place in England's side for tomorrow's first Test is in serious doubt after the batsman sustained whiplash in a car accident on Monday. The England number three suffered the injury while he was driving to the Brit Oval to have treatment on a thigh problem that was already threatening his inclusion in the match.

Mark Butcher's place in England's side for tomorrow's first Test is in serious doubt after the batsman sustained whiplash in a car accident on Monday. The England number three suffered the injury while he was driving to the Brit Oval to have treatment on a thigh problem that was already threatening his inclusion in the match.

It is slightly ironic that one of England's leading batsmen should pick up the injury while the West Indies are in town. In the past there has been a greater chance of an injury like this being picked up by an England player attempting to get out of the way of a bouncer sent down by Malcolm Marshall or Curtley Ambrose.

"I am sore and I am not moving too well," said Butcher after pulling out of a net session after four or five deliveries. "I am protecting it a bit and it is difficult to say what my chances of playing in the Test are. All I can say is that if the Test started today [yesterday] I wouldn't have been able to play. I just have to hope that I respond to the treatment I have been getting and with a good night's kip things will get better."

The injury to Butcher completed a disappointing day for England as they prepared for tomorrow's crucial match against the West Indies. Before the full extent of Butcher's injury became apparent, Andrew Flintoff revealed that his ankle injury would prevent him from bowling in the first Test and then, later, reports came through that Michael Vaughan had received a painful blow on his right hand while batting during practice.

Flintoff and Vaughan are both expected to play, but the sight of the England captain walking around Lord's with a bag of ice on his hand was far from reassuring.

"I was driving through a set of traffic lights and the car in front of me stopped to turn right," said Butcher, explaining what happened. "I was stationary and I looked up in my rear view mirror and saw someone coming at me. I braced myself for the impact and that was that.

"This has stopped me testing my thigh out. That is what I was supposed to be doing when I was on my way to the Oval. The neck is more serious at the moment because the thigh has had eight to 10 days to right itself. If I can't practice properly tomorrow [today] then that will be it and I will have to let Duncan Fletcher and Michael Vaughan know and give Robert Key, I presume, as much time as possible to prepare."

Should Butcher fail to convince the selectors he is fit, it will bring to an end his run of 42 consecutive Test appearances for England. "Beating Botham and Knott's record of 65 is a little game I have been playing with myself," he said. "It is still a long way away and I've got my fingers crossed that I will make it 43."

Butcher will recover from his injuries in time for the second Test in a week's time but there must be concerns about the way England are handling Flintoff. The Lancashire all-rounder complained of soreness around his left heel at the conclusion of the third Test against New Zealand five weeks ago.

Test showed that a boney spur had grown close to his Achilles tendon and initially it was hoped that rest would cure the problem. But this has not been the case and Flintoff had a cortisone injection in the soft tissue surrounding the spur on Monday. The 26-year-old is the most valuable member of Vaughan's team because, when fit, he allows them the luxury of seven batsmen and five bowlers.

But through encouraging him to play England are in danger of putting a short-term gain ahead of a long-term strategy.

Flintoff's injury is common amongst fast bowlers and is caused by banging the foot down violently on the rock-hard surfaces cricket is now played on.

Glenn McGrath, the Australian fast bowler, had a similar problem in 2003 and it kept him out of cricket for almost 12 months. There were complications in McGrath's case, but Flintoff can expect to be out for six to eight weeks if surgery is required. McGrath's statement that "it is not something that goes away" suggests that an operation is imminent but when will England be prepared to lose one of their star players, even if he is fit enough to do only half a job?

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