Hoggard likely to miss out as Strauss demands aggression
The uncertainty that has undermined much of England's recent cricket showed little sign of abating here yesterday as Matthew Hoggard failed to convince the selectors that he is fit to play in today's first Test against Pakistan. Hoggard batted, fielded and had three bowling spells in the Lord's nets in an attempt to prove he had recovered from the hand wound sustained playing for England A last weekend but, as the day wore on, his body language suggested that all is not right.
Hoggard is yet to be ruled out of this crucial match and it could just be the lugubrious nature of the fast bowler that created the impression, but an animated conversation with Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, who seemed to highlight the importance of fielding, showed why caution is needed.
If Hoggard could get away with just bowling, England would risk playing him, but the 29-year-old has to be able to bat and field, and these would be the issues most concerning Fletcher.
The England coach would also be aware that his team would not be entitled to a substitute if the injury flared up and Hoggard was forced from the field. Teams are not allowed to replace a player who goes in to a game with an injury and England would not want to end up with only 10 on the field.
"We are going to give him as long as possible to prove his fitness," said Andrew Strauss, the stand-in England captain. "He has done some useful work in the nets but we will have to wait and see how he comes through. We are fairly encouraged by what he did but we need to see how it reacts.
"Fielding is important and I don't think you can go into a game with a guy who is unable to field. He had a good fielding session but again we need to see how he reacts to that.
"We all know Hoggy has done a very good job over the last 24 months and since the Ashes he has probably been the pick of our bowlers. It is very important we get him on the pitch, but if he doesn't make it then it gives an opportunity to someone else. But it would be nice if he is fit to play."
Another factor England need to take in to consideration is his lack of bowling. Hoggard has bowled only 22 competitive overs in the month since the Test defeat to Sri Lanka and he is bound to be rusty.
The loss of Hoggard would be a major setback for Strauss, who would then have only one member of last summer's Ashes-winning attack to call on. Stephen Harmison is that man, and his form has been rather sketchy. Liam Plunkett looks certain to bat at eight and Monty Panesar will play, but who fills Hoggard's place is debatable.
Sajid Mahmood would be a more aggressive choice than Jonathan Lewis, and Strauss suggested that is the way he wants his side to play over the next five days, but selecting him would be something of a gamble.
Mahmood took five wickets here in the drawn Test against Sri Lanka and his ability to reverse swing an old ball could prove useful, yet these positives have to be weighed up against the pasting he took during the one-day series that followed.
It could hardly be said that Lewis looked threatening on his debut at Trent Bridge but his ability to bowl line and length will be joyfully accepted by Strauss, whose leadership qualities received criticism during the one-day series despite the fact that it is impossible for a captain to show flair when his bowlers have no idea where the ball is going.
The hot weather that is forecast, along with the fact that Mick Hunt, the groundsman, kept a tarpaulin sheet over the pitch throughout yesterday, suggests the pitch is dry and that Panesar will bowl plenty of overs. The control Panesar offers will prevent Strauss from ageing too quickly but it will not disappoint Pakistan, who are experts in reverse swing and, in Danish Kaneria, have a high-quality spinner.
"The personnel in the Pakistan side has changed since the last time we played against them," said Strauss. "But the one thing I learnt about them during the winter was how unpredictable they can be. They have the ability to turn a game around in one session of play, and because of this you can't afford to relax against them for one moment.
"I want us to be assertive and aggressive from the moment we walk out on the field so that we can set out our stall. I certainly want Pakistan to know that they are in a game of cricket here and hopefully that will continue throughout the series."
Pakistan have injury concerns of their own. With Shoaib Akhtar and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan already out of the series, Mohammad Asif was expected to lead the attack but he has been ruled out of this match with an injured right elbow.
Shoaib Malik is doubtful too. The opener had a pain-killing injection in his right elbow on Tuesday and suffered discomfort at practice yesterday. "We are pretty much down to the bare minimum," said Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach. "Our bowling attack will be Mohammad Sami, Abdul Razzaq, Umar Gul and Danish Kaneria. Malik looks doubtful but it is a reaction to the jab, so he may wake up and be ready to play.
"We just have to get on with the game. We need to match England's aggression and hit fire with fire. Pakistan has always been an aggressive team and this won't change. They are a team of fighters and they will fight all the way."
England (from): A J Strauss (Middlesex, capt), M E Trescothick (Somerset), A N Cook (Essex), K P Pietersen (Hampshire), P D Collingwood (Durham), I R Bell (Warwickshire), G O Jones (Kent, wkt), L E Plunkett (Durham), M J Hoggard (Yorkshire), S J Harmison (Durham), M S Panesar (Northamptonshire), S I Mahmood (Lancashire), J Lewis (Gloucestershire).
Pakistan (from): Inzamam-ul-Haq (capt), Shoaib Malik, Imran Farhat, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Sami, Danish Kaneria, Umar Gul, Salman Butt, Faisal Iqbal.
Umpires: SA Bucknor (WI) & SJ Taufel (Aus).
Weather and TV times
WEATHER Cloudy in the morning, with sunny spells later. Temperature: 23C.
TELEVISION Live: Sky Sports 1, 10am. Highlights: Sky Sports 1, 8pm, 11pm. Five, 7.15pm.
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