England sweat as Shah joins Flintoff on sidelines

England 424-8 dec & 118-0 St Kitts & Nevis 251
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The Independent Online

It would hardly be an England tour without at least two injury scares, one of them preferably involving Andrew Flintoff. The 2009 adventurers to the Caribbean fully met their obligations in this respect yesterday.

Flintoff made a 1,860-mile return journey between St Kitts and Jamaica to have a scan on his left side in which he had felt both stiff and sore. Neither the necessary equipment nor expertise was available in St Kitts, and the fact that Flintoff was bundled on to an early-morning charter flight with the team doctor, Mike Stone, was an indication of how seriously England are taking his condition.

The results of the scan will be transmitted to England where the ECB's chief medical officer, Nick Peirce, will assess them. Initial concerns will not have been eased by the memory that Flintoff suffered an injury to his side last summer, which delayed his return after ankle surgery. The fear is that Flintoff's side becomes what his left ankle used to be before last-ditch surgery – his Achilles' heel, that is.

While Flintoff was in mid-air, Owais Shah was also withdrawn from the match against St Kitts & Nevis after waking up with blurred vision following his unbeaten century the day before. There was a certain irony in this since it is an affliction the selectors have generally suffered from when wondering whether to pick Shah for the Test team.

Tests showed that Shah has a scratch on his cornea, probably caused by a speck of dust during his long, industrious innings of 125. He is expected to be fit to play in the next (and last) warm-up match against West Indies A on Thursday. But England medical bulletins have a habit of saying one thing and eventually meaning another, so nobody should take anything for granted.

All this meant that England's best intentions of making it a pukka 11-a-side match were rather scuppered. They sought and were granted permission to replace Flintoff in the line-up, which would not be permitted in an authentic game. Stuart Broad was brought in.

It was all fairly jaunty stuff but there was still serious business afoot. England had the best of things as they should have done, given the rawness in skill and experience of their opponents.

England, understandably, were not at full throttle. A warm-up match has to do what it says on the fixture schedule.

It came as no surprise that Stephen Harmison looked in need of more bowling. By now, it is well established that Harmison needs plenty of overs to rediscover some rhythm and on the evidence of yesterday's initial flurry he needs plenty more.

The ball with which he took England's first wicket of the tour, waist-high outside off stump, holding its own and providing Matt Prior with an acrobatic catch in front of first slip, did not have much similar company.

Broad had trouble with his length and Codville Rogers struck four of the 12 fours contained in his attractive 63 from a single over. There was payback of sorts when Broad eventually removed him and his other nine overs cost only 10 runs.

The seam attack, like the England team, is a work in progress. That can be said, too, of the spin options open to England. Two of the three in the squad, Monty Panesar and Adil Rashid, are playing. Panesar appeared to be bowling slower and off a shorter run, which does not entirely suit him. His natural speed is slightly quicker – but Panesar cannot win at present. He was a touch too canny for the batsmen on view.

On the evidence of yesterday, England cannot play Rashid in the Tests. He is not ready because he bowls too many indifferent balls and that lack of control would be exposed. On balance, Graham Swann did not do himself any harm by not playing. Panesar deserved his four wickets for effort and experimentation. There were two each for Jimmy Anderson, the most fluent of the fast men, and Broad.

Andrew Strauss avoided a pair easily and went on to a well-ordered half-century as he and Alastair Cook extended England's lead in great comfort to 291. It was the gentlest of warm-ups but nobody should worry about that.

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