Sidebottom battles for fitness as auld enemy lie in wait

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There will be no lone piper playing "Flower of Scotland" or tartan army singing passionately in the stands before today's inaugural one-day international between Scotland and England at The Grange in Edinburgh. Cricket, unlike rugby and football, doesn't really stir such cross-border emotion. But there is the potential for an upset. Sadly, there always is with England's fickle one-day team.

England's victory over South Africa in the final Test a week ago will have done wonders for the confidence of Kevin Pietersen, but the team's new captain will, weather permitting, take on the auld enemy without two of his most reliable players. Pietersen's predecessor Paul Collingwood is currently in the middle of a four-match ban as a penalty for England's slow over-rate during the one-day series against New Zealand, while Ryan Sidebottom is once again struggling with injury.

Collingwood will return for England's second one-dayer against South Africa in Nottingham on 26 August but there are growing fears about the welfare of Sidebottom, who continues to pick up niggling injuries. The worry is that Sidebottom's body is struggling to cope with the extra demands international cricket places on it. In the past couple of months the 30-year-old has had back, neck, shoulder, hip and groin problems; injuries that forced him to miss a couple of England's limited-over matches against New Zealand and two Tests against South Africa. Sidebottom's current complaint, a hip/groin injury, is being assessed at the National Performance Centre in Loughborough and he will need to pass a fitness test on Tuesday if he is to join up with Pietersen's squad as they prepare for Friday's first one-dayer against South Africa at Headingley.

"Ryan is in better physical shape than he was 12 months ago, but he has done a lot of work and bowled a lot of overs, especially in Test matches," said Peter Moores, the England coach. "He's had a little bit of groin pain and a little bit of neck pain, so we need to get everything cleared up so that when he starts playing again he'll be fine for the next period of time. It's all come from volume of work – bowling is a stressful business.

"He's worked hard over the last 16 months but picked up three or four niggles at the same time, then started to compensate in the way he bowls. That's why we have to get everything cleared up so when he plays he's fully fit. The plan is for him to be available for selection when we get to Leeds, but our medical staff is assessing him all the time.

As cover for Sidebottom and Chris Tremlett, who has a heel injury, England have called up Tim Bresnan, the Yorkshire all-rounder. Bresnan played in four one-dayers and a Twenty20 international against Sri Lanka in 2006 and failed to impress but he is having an excellent summer for Yorkshire. In the County Championship the 23-year-old has scored 442 runs at an average of 36.83 and taken 40 wickets at a cost of 26.42. He also performed well in the Friends Provident Trophy: 18 wickets at an average of 18.

"Tim is a bit older and a bit wiser now, and he's probably gained an extra yard of pace, which you need in international cricket," explained Moores. "We have our own rankings and he's second behind Steve Harmison in one-day cricket. He's also a three-dimensional player who bats, bowls and fields.

"He'll have learnt a lot from those five games he played against Sri Lanka. We wouldn't have picked him if we weren't prepared to play him." Matthew Prior is set to open the batting on his return to the England team, giving the side added impetus at the top of the order. Samit Patel, Nottinghamshire's exciting young spinning all-rounder, could make his England debut, but only at the expense of Graeme Swann, his county team-mate.

Possible England team: K P Pietersen, A N Cook, M J Prior, I R Bell, R S Bopara, O A Shah, A Flintoff, L J Wright, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J S Anderson.