Strauss admits Trescothick loss is major blow but expects England to survive character test

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The Independent Online

Trescothick was visibly upset as he left Michael Vaughan's squad at the conclusion of Saturday's disappointing eight-wicket defeat by an Indian Cricket Board President's XI in Baroda. As England's most accomplished and consistent batsman, he will be sorely missed during Wednesday's first Test here. Whether he takes any further part in the tour will be decided during the coming week.

Trescothick's withdrawal has stretched England's batting resources to crisis point. Doubts remain over whether Vaughan's right knee is strong enough to cope with the rigours of a five-day Test, and the back injuries sustained by Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood are still of concern. The horrendous casualty list, which also includes Liam Plunkett with a bruised heel and a couple of players who are still struggling to rid themselves of gastric flu, has caused England to call up three replacements.

Alastair Cook, the exciting young Essex batsman, and Middlesex's Owais Shah will attempt to shore up the batting while James Anderson will act as cover for the fast bowlers. All three were playing in an England A match against the West Indies when they were told that their services were required on the other side of the world. Cook and Anderson arrived in Nagpur last night, while Shah is expected to join the squad tomorrow.

If Vaughan, Pietersen and Collingwood fail to recover in time, it is conceivable that both Cook and Shah could play on Wednesday.

What state of mind they will be in, after two days in transit, is debatable but at the moment England will be happy just to get 11 fit cricketers on the park. The fully fit but out of form Andrew Strauss admitted that the loss of Trescothick was a major blow.

"Trescothick has been in phenomenal form ever since I became part of the England set-up," Strauss said. "He has played a major part in all the success we have had and it is going to be tough without him. Marcus had a very difficult decision to make and we respect that as his team-mates and as his mates. We hope he comes to terms with the problems he has. Our job is to fill the void and make sure we don't miss him too much."

England's three Tests and seven one-day internationals could go one of two ways following such a traumatic week. The wheels of the team may currently be as susceptible as those on the donkey-drawn carts that roll past the front of the team hotel, but they are still on.

England will get their first look at the Nagpur Test pitch at practice this morning, and the sight of it is unlikely to fill them with glee. The terracotta-coloured surface was soft yesterday but the scorching sun and a heavy roller will quickly remove any moisture, and England can expect a surface that will provide their fast bowlers with very little assistance. A lush, well-watered, green outfield will also reduce the chances of reverse-swing. Life may be tough for the batsmen now but it looks set to get harder for the bowlers on Wednesday.

Strauss believes that how England respond to these challenges will prove to be a true test of the team's character. "These things happen in international cricket," he said. "Injuries give someone else the chance to prove what they have got and we, as a side, have got to rise to these challenges and prove that we are good enough to adapt to any difficulties we might encounter.

"The key to this tour so far is that it is asking questions of our character, and this is a great opportunity for us to show how we react to adversity. In some ways this team will be judged as much for how it reacts to situations like this as it was in winning the Ashes.

"We are in a similar position to what we were in Pakistan. We did not play very well in the warm-up games there and Vaughany got injured. We had to make changes on the spur of the moment and react to them. In Pakistan we did not do it that well but, hopefully, we are becoming more used to adapting to different circumstances and we will give a better account of ourselves."

If Vaughan fails to prove his fitness, Andrew Flintoff will become the 76th player to captain England. Flintoff has stated that he would like to lead England and it would be intriguing to watch him attempt to cope with the extra responsibility.

As England's talisman, best bowler, second slip and most likely matchwinner, one would have thought that he had enough to worry about without this enormous challenge. But as the saying goes: if you want something doing, ask a busy man.

* West Indies A need another 330 runs with nine second-innings wickets in hand to beat England A on the final day today after the hosts closed on 35-1 in Antigua yesterday. Middlesex's Jamie Dalrymple hit 53 in England's second innings of 231 to set a fourth-innings target of 365, and Lancashire paceman Sajid Mahmood picked up a wicket just before the close.

* South Africa's captain Graeme Smith hit a superb century to steer his side to a six-wicket win over Australia in the first one-day international in Centurion yesterday. After Australia made 229 for 8 in a rain-affected match, Smith hit 119 not out from 124 balls as South Africa, set a revised target of 204 in 41 overs, got home in 37.3 overs.