England to monitor Harmison's fitness for one-day series

It seems slightly ironic that, on the day when Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, is contemplating playing one of his prize assets when he may not be 100 per cent fit in order to reduce the amount of cricket the team have to play, the England and Wales Cricket Board is considering increasing the volume of cricket played by the national side.

Stephen Harmison was ruled out of today's third Test against India with an injured right shin yet England will keep him in Bombay in the hope that he can play in the opening two matches in the one-day series. These two matches have taken on special significance because they will have a bearing on whether England avoid having to play in the preliminary rounds of the ICC Champions Trophy here in October.

The top six sides in the ICC's official rankings on 1 April will gain automatic entry to the tournament while the remaining teams have to play three qualifying matches. Qualification would be a formality but, in a busy year, Fletcher would rather his side played in three less games and spent an extra week at home with their families.

England currently lie in sixth place in the rankings and Sri Lanka are seventh. But this could change if Sri Lanka defeat Pakistan in a three-match series which started yesterday, and England lose their opening two one-dayers in Delhi and Faridabad. The only way in which England's matches would become irrelevant is if Pakistan were to win all three games in Sri Lanka.

"We'll review it [Harmison's injury] after a week and see if he is available for those two games which are quite crucial at the start of the one-day series," said Fletcher. "We might find after three or four days there's no improvement and we might make a decision then, but we're looking to make a decision after the Test."

Earlier in the day the ECB had stated that it was trying to find new ways of generating greater income, and the easiest way for it to do this is by increasing the number of games played by the England team. The English domestic season is already full to the brim and this has led the ECB to look at the possibility of Michael Vaughan's side dropping in at non-Test playing venues on the way to major tours. An example of this would be England stopping in Dubai to play a couple of one-day matches on their way down to Sri Lanka in the winter of 2007/8.

The ECB accepts that these trips would not always include the Andrew Flintoffs and Kevin Pietersens of this world, but it believes they would give fringe players the chance to gain international experience. Much of this extra income would be spent on the national side and would give Fletcher the opportunity to increase the number of players he can centrally contract, which is something he wishes to do.

Yet it is hard to believe that an England second XI playing an Indian second XI in Dubai would cause great interest. International matches are supposed to be played by the best players from each country and these games would dilute the quality considerably.

Andrew Flintoff is due to return to the United Kingdom after this Test to be with his family and will head back for the one-day series, and Harmison said: "I am sure after he has been home for a few days he will come back with a bit more energy and a bit more enthusiasm - not that he is lacking it at the moment - because when good things happen in your family life it puts a spring in your step."

Of Flintoff's captaincy, he said: "He has stuck to the task well and he deserves a little bit of luck in this match - hopefully he gets it so we can level the series."


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