Hoggard in race for fitness to face tourists

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The Independent Online

Matthew Hoggard will spend several hours a day in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber at a hospital near Lord's in an attempt to prove his fitness for Thursday's first Test against Pakistan. Hoggard had to have six stitches after his England A team-mate Tim Bresnan trod on his right hand during a game of touch rugby before Saturday's play against the tourists, and it is hoped the treatment will increase the speed of his recovery.

England are optimistic that their most experienced and consistent bowler will be fit for Lord's, but the selectors are concerned over Hoggard's lack of bowling match practice. Hoggard has sent down just 22 competitive overs since England's Test defeat to Sri Lanka on 5 June, and the injury has prevented him from bowling a ball in anger at Canterbury.

The lacerations are on Hoggard's right palm and are unlikely to interfere with his bowling, but the stiffness and swelling could. It will also affect his batting and the risk of picking up an infection cannot be ruled out.

Losing Hoggard would be a devastating blow to an England attack that has already been deprived of Andrew Flintoff, Simon Jones and Ashley Giles because of injury, and the selectors will attempt to assess how well he is bowling during practice tomorrow and on Wednesday.

"He will be using the same oxygen room as Simon Jones used," said David Graveney, the chairman of selectors. "It would be reasonable to see him bowl in the nets on Wednesday to see what he can and cannot do. We will see how he reacts to bowling before we make a decision."

The uncertainty surrounding Hoggard encouraged the England selectors to include Sajid Mahmood, an extra fast bowler, in the 13-man squad. The absence of Flintoff, who continued his recovery from an ankle injury by taking 3 for 4 in three overs for Lancashire in yesterday's Twenty20 win over Nottinghamshire, means Mahmood is unlikely to play even if Hoggard fails to prove his fitness.

Ian Bell will bat at six, a decision that highlights the futility of attempting to find a like-for-like replacement for Flintoff, and England will field a team containing just four front-line bowlers. In the past, England have been guilty of picking bits-and-pieces cricketers when Flintoff has been injured, but the tactic has failed because these players have not been good enough with either bat or ball. But by picking Bell, England will play a cricketer who has proved that he can score runs at this level.

"You can't replace the irreplaceable so you weaken the batting or bowling," said Graveney. "The scenario is that Bell will play and he and Paul Collingwood will supplement the four-man attack. We have included five pace bowlers in the squad as we need cover for Hoggard following the hand injury. Without Flintoff, there is a greater responsibility on Harmison and Hoggard, if he is available."

If Hoggard plays, Mahmood and Jonathan Lewis will miss out. Mahmood was not the only England fast bowler to be flogged around by the Sri Lankans during the NatWest series, but the assault seemed to affect him more than the others and he was dropped for the final two matches.

Lewis will play if Hoggard is unfit, and the sight of the Gloucestershire seamer walking out at Lord's would be reassuring for Andrew Strauss, England's stand-in captain. At the highest level, Lewis' bowling lacks penetration but he can bowl to a field and Strauss would be grateful for that.

Jamie Dalrymple, the Middlesex off-spinner, was the only notable omission from the squad, but Lord's is a venue where English spinners have had very little success. If Dalrymple were to play, he would do so at the expense of Bell and this would weaken England's batting. The 25-year-old could well feature in the second Test at Old Trafford, a ground that generally helps slow bowlers.

Monty Panesar will shoulder England's spin options and he is likely to get plenty of bowling over the course of the next week. After taking 5 for 78 against Sri Lanka at Trent Bridge, Panesar's confidence should be high.

But Pakistan may well look to target Panesar, knowing that the physical demands on three fast bowlers will be high if they can hit him out of the attack.

England Test squad for Lord's

A J Strauss (Middlesex, captain), I R Bell (Warwickshire), P D Collingwood (Durham), A N Cook (Essex), S J Harmison (Durham), M J Hoggard (Yorkshire), G O Jones (Kent), J Lewis (Gloucestershire), S I Mahmood (Lancashire), M S Panesar (Northamptonshire), K P Pietersen (Hampshire), L E Plunkett (Durham), M E Trescothick (Somerset).