England call up Panesar as prospects fall for Giles

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The chances of Giles travelling to Mumbai on 12 February now seem remote given the extremely cautious comments of Dr Peter Gregory, the chief medical officer at the England and Wales Cricket Board. Dr Gregory's assessment of Giles has led to the England selectors placing Ian Blackwell on standby.

If Giles were to be withdrawn from the nine-week tour, Blackwell, the Somerset all-rounder, would be the favourite to replace him in England's starting XI in the first Test. Blackwell is the only slow bowler who is capable of batting at eight, and England would not fancy the prospect of watching Matthew Hoggard plod out to the crease following the loss of a sixth wicket.

"Ashley has been experiencing discomfort in his right hip over the past fortnight following the operation in early December," said Dr Gregory. "Ashley will need to rest if he is to achieve maximum benefit from surgery [otherwise]this could compromise the future health of his hip joint.

"The medical team's current view is that it is unlikely he will be fit for the start of the tour of India. But he will continue with his rehabilitation programme as pain allows and the medical team will continue to monitor his progress closely."

The England itinerary - three Tests in 22 days - would give a fully fit unselected player little chance of finding form, let alone an injured one, and it may be in England's long-term interest to allow Giles to spend the next two months easing his way back to full fitness.

Panesar's arrival in India will cause a huge amount of interest and if he plays he will become the first Sikh to represent England. Harbhajan Singh, India's wonderful off-spinner, is one of the few Sikhs currently playing international cricket and England will be hoping Panesar can develop into a similar class of bowler.

Panesar, whose parents migrated from Northern India in the mid-1970s, was born and bred in Luton, and his figures last summer - 51 wickets at an average of 22.47 - suggest he has the potential to become a high-quality slow bowler. But if this is to happen England will need to show patience.

It takes time for a spin bowler to master his art and Panesar visited the Darren Lehmann Cricket Academy in Adelaide this winter in an effort to improve his batting and fielding. The 23-year-old's Indian roots mean that the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Harbhajan and Anil Kumble have been heroes of his, and he is understandably excited about the prospect of playing against them.

"I am absolutely delighted," said Panesar. "I know there is a lot of hard work ahead of me but I am thrilled to be going on this tour. The prospect of bowling against Tendulkar or Dravid excites me because I look towards them as role models. If the chance comes along it will be a thrill to bowl at such great players."

Panesar will work with Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, while in India but on his return he will be able to pick the brain of David Parsons, the ECB's new spin bowling coach. It is hoped that Parsons, who never played first-class cricket, will implement a spin programme similar to that developed by Troy Cooley, England's soon-to-disappear fast bowling coach.

Allan Donald was one of several former fast bowlers to want Cooley's role, but yesterday the South African withdrew his application. Donald, currently employed by Cricket South Africa as a bowling coach, said: "My heart lies with South African cricket, and I want to do everything to make us the best in the world. I will be writing to the board of Cricket South Africa to apologise for making a public statement about my England application."

The England selectors attempted to soften the blow of omitting Vikram Solanki from the one-day squad of India by naming him captain of the England A tour of the West Indies. Solanki will be joined by James Anderson on a five-week tour of two Tests and five one-day matches.

England A Squad: V S Solanki (capt), Kabir Ali, J M Anderson, G J Batty, I D Blackwell, R Clarke, A N Cook, J W M Dalrymple, E C Joyce, A G R Loudon, S I Mahmood, C M W Read (wkt), O A Shah, A G B Wharf, M H Yardy.

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