Chapple's fledgling England career in jeopardy

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The England and Lancashire all-rounder, Glen Chapple, will miss the opening matches of this month's NaWest one-day series against Sri Lanka after picking up an abdominal strain during Tuesday's inaugural international encounter with Ireland. The injury is desperate news for Chapple who has been one of the most reliable fast-medium bowlers in domestic cricket during the last decade, and had been made to wait until he was 32 before making his international debut.

Chapple bowled four overs and scored 14 runs in Belfast before limping off, and there must be a real chance that the Ireland game will be his first and last international appearance. Kabir Ali, the Worcestershire seamer, will replace Chapple and he will join up with the squad at Lord's this morning as they prepare for Saturday's initial NatWest series match against Sri Lanka.

"Obviously it is very disappointing for Glen," said David Graveney, England's chairman of selectors. "But everyone hopes that after receiving the right treatment with Lancashire he'll be able to rejoin the squad and play a part in the latter stages of the NatWest series." Losing Chapple is a blow, but replacing him is not going to be one of the biggest challenges facing England as they contemplate defending the Ashes this winter.

Yet his misfortune again highlights the team's rotten run of luck with injuries. Chapple is the seventh player to be forced out of the series, following injuries to Michael Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff, Simon Jones, Ashley Giles, James Anderson and Ian Blackwell.

England have plenty of hard work ahead of them before they travel to Australia in November. In Test cricket they need to rediscover the form that took them to victory in 14 of the 18 games they played prior to the arrival of Ricky Ponting's side in 2005, and in one-day cricket they have to develop a team that is capable of pushing for World Cup glory in the Caribbean in nine months' time.

It will not be easy, especially if they are at any time deprived of the services of their most influential player, the talismanic figure of Flintoff. Following the 1-1 draw in the recent Test series against Sri Lanka, and the failure to win any of the last five Test or one-day series, England are in desperate need of a morale- boosting win in the coming NatWest series, which started last night with a Twenty20 international at the Rose Bowl, Southampton.

If England, under the guidance of Andrew Strauss, the stand-in stand-in captain, are to achieve this goal they will do so without Flintoff, who has been instructed to rest his troublesome left ankle. And, of all the challenges that face England, learning to cope without Flintoff will be the most arduous.

Flintoff's fitness record in Test cricket, where he has the longest run of consecutive appearances in the current England side, is outstanding; he has not missed a Test since England's tour of Bangladesh in October 2003. Flintoff has, however, missed quite a bit of one-day cricket, and his absence could explain why England have struggled to gain any sort of momentum in this form of the game.

How difficult it is for England to cope without Flintoff was highlighted during the summer of 2004 when they won seven consecutive Test matches against New Zealand and the West Indies. Jammed in between these two Test series was the NatWest one-day series involving England and the same two teams. Injury prevented Flintoff from bowling in the tournament and England, embarrassingly, failed to reach the final.

The unavailability of Flintoff places extra pressure on many of the England players, and none more so than Paul Collingwood. Graveney, prior to England's 2004/05 winter tour of South Africa, suggested that Collingwood was Flintoff's natural replacement. It was a slightly unfair description but, following the omission of Surrey's Rikki Clarke from this squad, he is England's only other proven all-rounder.

"It is obviously very hard to replace Flintoff," admitted Collingwood. "He is two players rolled into one and getting the balance of the side right when he is not there is very difficult. We showed in India, when we won in Jamshedpur, that we can win games of cricket without Fred, and his absence gives other players an opportunity to come in and perform.

"When Fred's not with us every player's role in the side changes slightly. In order to make up for him some players have to be more aggressive with the bat and others have to get used to batting in a different position in the order. I may get a few more overs in but that will generally be dictated by the type of pitches we play on. As one of England's more experienced one-day players I enjoy the extra responsibility.

"I don't feel under any added pressure coming into these games because pressure is created by the situation of the match when you become involved. When you bat at five or six, as I do, it is the scoreboard that puts you under pressure.

"The new guys have between 20 and 25 games to play before the World Cup, and if they can come in and perform they have a good chance of playing in the tournament."