Harmison injury sparks early Ashes concern

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The Independent Online

England's preparations for an Ashes series took an all too familiar turn for the worse yesterday when Steve Harmison was ruled out of today's one-day warm-up match against Hampshire because of injury.

The fast bowler is only scheduled to miss today's game but must now be a doubt for the Twenty20 match against Australia at the Rose Bowl on Monday, England's first meeting of the summer with the world champions.

The Durham pace bowler has been suffering pain in his left ankle and on Tuesday underwent a cortisone injection into the joint in an effort to ease the discomfort. He first felt the problem during last week's second Test win over Bangladesh at the Riverside, after a handful of overs in the second innings.

He received medical attention for only 20 minutes and continued to bowl in that match, albeit at a lesser tilt due to soreness in the area.

"It was fine after that treatment but it just gradually got worse as the Test match went on," Harmison said.

"In the end I took a bit of gas off it in the second innings because I couldn't land properly. The scan showed a bit of bruising of the bone and a bit of swelling but nothing more serious than that.

"So the specialist I saw suggested because I had a five-day break that a cortisone jab might be the best option - if I had been playing the next day I would not have had one."

It is hoped the injury, which is not related to the calf problem he suffered on the tour of South Africa last winter, will not keep Harmison out of action long. With a glut of matches against their Ashes rivals ahead, England begin their NatWest Series build-up at the Rose Bowl where they will face Shane Warne's Hampshire Hawks.

After 18 months of unbridled success, their displays against Australia are due to be heavily scrutinised in the build-up to the first Test at Lord's on 21 July.

But Harmison insisted: "I don't think anybody has got anything to prove; we have proven to ourselves we can play against the best. When we walk on to the field we go out there as the top two Test-playing nations. And rightly so.

"Australia are No 1 by a decent way, in my opinion, they are consistently the best in the world. But on the big occasion, if we can hold our nerve, I firmly believe we can beat them; we have got that winning mentality now. If you are not ready for this lot you might as well stop playing."

Left-arm spinner Ashley Giles has been ruled out of the entire one-day series with a hip injury, Harmison is out for the weekend at least and England were given another scare when the captain Michael Vaughan twisted his right knee in fielding practice. He hobbled off moments later to receive treatment from physiotherapist Dean Conway and eased concerns by reporting himself fit.

England's plans for their previous Ashes campaign were consistently undermined by injuries, especially to the bowlers. Darren Gough and Andrew Flintoff missed the entire series Down Under in 2002-03, while Simon Jones damaged knee ligaments in the first Test in Brisbane and was ruled out for a year.

Chris Silverwood and Alex Tudor, late additions to the touring party, also picked up injuries as Nasser Hussain's squad were reduced to the bare bones.

Vaughan must be praying this campaign is not beginning to follow a similar pattern.

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