As England continued to treat their lame and wounded yesterday, South Africa announced that their most versatile player was withdrawing from action. Jacques Kallis has a broken rib, will miss the entire one-day series between the sides, and is also a serious doubt for the First Test.
It was the sort of information to persuade England to take a rosier view of the world, to recognise that they are not alone in having key men crocked. It might even prompt a couple of them to take up their beds and walk. Kallis is a significant loss to the home side – right up there, maybe beyond, the absence of Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann for the tourists.
South Africa should be able to cover for him in the limited-overs series without undue calamity, although it has immediately disrupted their intention to move him from the No 3 position he has occupied in 174 of his 280 matches and turn him into an opener.
Hashim Amla will now accompany Graeme Smith for the first wicket in the long-awaited opening match of the one-day series in Centurion today, the official first tie having been washed out at the Wanderers on Friday. He may not have Kallis' muscularity but he scored 80 against Zimbabwe opening a fortnight ago and performed eminently with two big fifties against Australia earlier this year. As replacements go, Amla is more than adequate.
It means both sides are likely to have unexpected pairs of openers. England may well feel they have to leave out Joe Denly, whose form has been patchy, for Jonathan Trott, who has been scoring runs aplenty. If that happens and Trott accompanies Andrew Strauss, all four opening batsmen will have the distinction of being born in South Africa.
There are sufficient resources in South Africa's one-day squad to overcome Kallis's loss as a bowler but this will be much more difficult if he has to miss the start of the Test series. So formidable is he as an all-rounder, No 3 batsman and fourth seamer that the side's whole policy would be disrupted. Mickey Arthur, South Africa's coach, has said they would play Kallis in the Tests only as a batsman if necessary.
If the sides are still speaking by then – the verbal sparring has gone up several notches – they might have to turn to England for advice, the tourists having spent years trying to assemble a balanced team in the frequent absences of Andrew Flintoff. South Africa would either have to risk a four-man bowling attack or play one fewer specialist batsman.
Kallis initially felt the rib during the Twenty20 Champions League and it has prevented his bowling since. Although it was improving, it suddenly worsened last week after he bowled. The withdrawal enabled Arthur to reprise cricket's most familiar refrain. Everybody agrees something should be done, nobody does anything.
"Scheduling around the world needs to be looked at," he said. "The conundrum is the IPL [but] we have to be tough on schedules down the line." Not with the money to be earned in the IPL, however.
England, it seems, are gradually nursing the injured players back to health. Paul Collingwood has been passed fit for the match at Centurion today, his stiff back having loosened, and unless there was an overnight reaction Jimmy Anderson's right knee has improved sufficiently to allow him to bowl unimpeded. Swann (side), Broad (shoulder) and Alastair Cook (back) are all still unfit. Broad had a gentle bowl yesterday, Swann did not. Cook also stood aside and concerns about his injury are beginning to progress beyond mild.
England have a total of 31 cricketers in South Africa at present, which must make it feel more like a convention of the Professional Cricketers' Association than an international gathering. They now have 18 with the squad for the one-day series, the rest in a performance camp up the road.
However, England still had to call home for a player to take Swann's place. They summoned James Tredwell, although he was not one of the original 41 players in the various winter performance squads. It is possible to wonder sometimes what they mean.
Tredwell, who took 69 Championship wickets last summer, albeit in the Second Division, has a chance of playing today. England do not have unlimited trust in leg spinner Adil Rashid, who has been selected for both one-day and Test parties.
If Tredwell were to play ahead of him today (the reason being given that South Africa have several left-handers from whom Tredwell's off spin will turn away) it would make his participation in the Test squad almost untenable, since the idea of his taking part in a Test would be fanciful.
For now the tour needs some meaningful cricket, and it needs it today.Reuse content