Injury to Alastair Cook pushes back England's Ashes planning

 

Alastair Cook's absence through injury from England's opening tour match is hardly Plan A for their Ashes campaign.

The sore backs which have put paid to captain and opening batsman Cook's first sighters in Perth and contributed to lynchpin seamer Stuart Broad missing his initial reconnaissance too do nonetheless throw up decidedly handy opportunities for others.

Quite apart from Matt Prior's chance to show what he can do as captain from behind the stumps, circumstances have conspired to allow England - who have also seen Monty Panesar laid low by a stomach upset - to assess an extra bowler and deploy Michael Carberry at the top of the order alongside Joe Root if they so wish.

In a three-day match against a Western Australia XI starting on Halloween, in the small hours UK time, England are prepared to unleash all three of their tall fast bowlers at a venue which is traditionally home to the world's bounciest pitches.

Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett and the uncapped Boyd Rankin may all get a chance on a surface ideally-suited to their talents.

Confirmation will come soon enough, overnight UK time in fact.

Concerns about Cook's well-being should not persist either, according to Prior.

"Him missing this game is purely precautionary, so I'd be very surprised if he doesn't play the next one," the wicketkeeper told Sky Sports News.

That will be against a strong Australia A side in Hobart on November 6, a week-long deadline Cook and Broad must both make if they are to vindicate the party line.

That date also appears to be inked in for two other Test regulars, Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Swann fit and well but thought likely to wait until England's second match to get their tour under way.

With Cook unexpectedly stuck on the sidelines, there was an obvious irony when Michael Clarke - his opposite number in this year's home and away series and the Ashes captain whose ongoing participation was supposed to be most in doubt because of chronic back issues - returned to action ahead of schedule for New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield on Wednesday, and marked the occasion with a reassuring 88 against Tasmania in Sydney.

Clarke's stand-off with his former Test captain Ricky Ponting rumbles on, however, over criticism voiced in his predecessor's autobiography.

The temperature in Perth also shot up in time for England's last practice day - from the mid-20s to the high 30s, in 24 hours - so Cook and Broad might have found some consolation in the shade while their team-mates worked up a sweat.

Prior reported no quarter given as batsmen and bowlers alike press their claims for inclusion in a series which could rewrite cricket history as England bid for a fourth successive Ashes victory.

"Nets have been good fun at the moment with the big guys steaming in, all playing for their place - the batters have been hopping around a little bit," he said.

"It's great to have competition in a team and in a squad - I think that's very healthy.

"It's not just in the bowlers - it's batters, all-rounders, throughout the team. There's a huge amount of competition.

"Everybody's pushing each other very hard, and that gets the best out of the final XI chosen."

Prior is heartened to be leading a team, notwithstanding the presence of two prospective Test newcomers in number six aspirants Ben Stokes and Gary Ballance, that has a wealth of experience - specifically in these conditions, after England's success in Australia three years ago.

"We've got a lot of our squad who know about playing cricket in Australia, and winning in Australia - which is a huge thing and a great confidence boost," he said.

"Immediately we go into our first net session and batters with experience of batting on wickets with more bounce are feeding back to the younger players.

"[For the] bowlers, [it's] areas you need to change, types of deliveries you need to bowl on Australian wickets - all this information is immediately being filtered down.

"You don't need to take the first week, 10 days, two weeks getting into it and finding these things out.

"We know what we need to do; we know how we best prepare for that first Test match, and we can get straight into our work.

"It cuts that time frame down massively, and we can get straight into it. It's a massive benefit."

Sadly for Cook, it is one he will have to wait a little longer to revisit.

PA

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