Fall puts Butcher's bowling at risk for Test

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The Independent Online

Mark Butcher added his name to England's growing injury list yesterday when he twisted his right ankle during final preparations for this summer's opening Test match against Zimbabwe. The fall, during practice at the indoor school at Lord's, is not expected to keep the Surrey batsman out of the game but it further clouds decisions over England's line-up.

With the fast bowlers, Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard, still needing to pass fitness tests before Thursday's 10.45 start, the major concern for Butcher is how the injury will affect his medium-pace bowling. It is unlikely that batting will be a problem for the left-hander, but the England selectors were hoping, should Flintoff fail his test, that Butcher would be able to share the job of fourth seamer with the newcomer Anthony McGrath.

Flintoff, did not practice with the 13-man squad today, and the chances of his recovering from the injury to his right shoulder in time appear remote. On Friday the England and Wales Cricket Board's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Peter Gregory, had rated the all-rounder's prospects as "slim" and yesterday the prognosis had moved to "very doubtful".

Hoggard, whose injury only allowed him to bat in yesterday's practice session, will be desperate to play even though an ultrasound scan revealed the Yorkshire paceman has strained abdominal muscles in his left side. A sure selection in the England side a year ago, Hoggard is under pressure after a poor winter. He will be relieved the scan showed his injury to be healing but his fitness will be reassessed today.

For those who attend, or watch Thursday's play on television, Lord's will look as immaculate as ever. However, the lush green outfield hides what has been a busy winter for this famous old ground. Six months ago the grass was still in a field in Lincolnshire.

The Marylebone Cricket Club has spent £1.2m installing a new drainage system. The hallowed turf was ripped up, and in some cases sold, as 1,500 lorry movements took away 10,000 tonnes of clay and brought back 10,000 tonnes of a sand and loam mixture that will ensure less time is lost to rain.

The groundsman, Mick Hunt, is very pleased with these developments. Usually the rain which has dominated the last week would be enough to give Hunt nightmares. But such is his confidence in the new outfield that all the plastic sheets, which are normally found lying behind the boundary at international games, have been thrown away.

"Although the soil here is not as sandy, its make-up has been modelled on those at football grounds," said Hunt. "With all the rain we have had, and the forecast as it is, we would normally expect the outfield to be spongy at the start of the game. However with the new drainage, it has a filtration rate of two inches of water an hour, it should be firm, even if there is the odd little area where it is to completely settle down."