Alastair Cook's preparations for the first Test received a setback yesterday when the England opener dislocated the little finger on his right hand during Essex's four-day game against New Zealand. Cook, hoping to get much needed practice before 15 May, sustained the injury when he dropped a sharp catch offered by Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain, while fielding at fine gully an hour before the close of play.
Cook left the field clutching his right hand in discomfort, and was sent for a precautionary X-ray. He did not return before the close. Cook and Essex are optimistic about his chances of batting today, but the blow is certain to cause him a hindrance when he straps his pads on. Even if Cook has a fracture it is unlikely to rule him out of the first Test because it is his little finger and batsmen are used to playing with such knocks.
Cook's injury completed a disappointing day for those expected to feature in the three-Test series. New Zealand's five Indian Premier League stars are now in town but they will need to modify their approach if they are to lighten up the cold, wet and grassy early-season cricket fields of England. Between them Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor, Jacob Oram, Daniel Vettori and Kyle Mills contributed 64 runs, with each failing to cope with the different conditions here
Carting bowlers into the stands in front of huge crowds on hot evenings and pristine grassless pitches takes talent, but different, and some would say no less worthy skills, are required to accumulate runs on a slow, green, seaming pitch in front of a few hundred hardy souls. McCullum and Taylor were caught behind the wicket playing ambitious strokes. Jacob Oram chopped on to his stumps whilst Vettori and Mills guided soft catches to first slip and gully.
Their demise allowed James Marshall, one of the lesser-known New Zealand batsmen, to show his class. Marshall gave himself an excellent chance of playing at the home of cricket by posting a determined, patient and classy 128.
The performance completed a memorable day for the Marshall family. Hamish Marshall, the former New Zealand and current Gloucestershire batsman, is James's identical twin and his century in Bristol allowed the family to complete a rare double.
Hamish, with 13 Test and 66 one-day appearances for the Black Caps, is the better known but the lack of security and money offered by New Zealand cricket encouraged him to turn his back on international cricket after the 2007 World Cup, use his family's Irish connections and play in England.
Indeed, had Hamish continued to play for New Zealand, James might not have been selected for this tour. In five Tests, he has scored just 166 runs at 24.
Ryan ten Doeschate was the most successful Essex bower, picking up five wickets with his handy medium pace. Maurice Chambers failed to take a wicket, tiring in his second first-class game as the day wore on, but first impressions suggest he is an exciting prospect.