England yesterday called up Andrew Strauss as batting cover for next week's opening Test against West Indies after Graham Thorpe suffered a worrying recurrence of his long-standing back problems.
The Middlesex captain will fly out tomorrow to join up with the rest of the squad in time for the start of the first Test at Sabina Park on Thursday. He will act as cover for Mark Butcher, who sustained sprained left ankle ligaments in last week's opening match against Jamaica.
Thorpe is also a doubt and was forced off the field for most of the opening session of today's match against the Jamaica Vice Chancellor's XI as England were made to work hard on the first morning of their final warm-up game before the first Test. By lunch, Stephen Harmison and Matthew Hoggard had each claimed a wicket, but the touring side had little else to smile about on a warm, breezy morning here.
With the bowling attack that is likely to face the West Indies next Thursday, Michael Vaughan would have hoped for greater success at Mona Bowl in the grounds of the University of West Indies. The cracked terracotta-coloured surface is already showing signs of inconsistent bounce, conditions on which bowling with greater accuracy would have been rewarded.
Losing the toss did, however, give Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, an opportunity to assess Simon Jones. Running in from the southern end of this scenic ground in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, the Glamorgan paceman was given an early introduction to what it is like to bowl in the Caribbean.
After a couple of looseners, Steve Tikolo, the Kenya captain - playing at the invitation of the University's vice chancellor - struck a half-volley down the ground for four. In Jones's next over, Jason Haynes played a couple of typically West Indian strokes. First the left-hander flicked Jones off his hip for four, and then, with the next ball, he slashed a back-foot drive to the cover boundary.
Apart from striking Hoggard for a six over mid-off in the seventh over of the day, Haynes had batted in a subdued manner before Jones's introduction into the attack. The Vice Chancellor's XI captain appeared fortunate to survive a close lbw appeal with the next delivery and Jones's double-teapot reaction could have landed him in trouble with a more officious umpire.
Once again Hoggard was the pick of England's pacemen. To date he has been the most aggressive of England's bowlers and he has thoroughly deserved his wickets. The pitches used in the two warm-up matches so far have been desperately slow, but this is something the bowlers will have to become accustomed too. It is disheartening for a fast bowler to see the ball bounce twice before it reaches the wicketkeeper, but in this part of the world they have to maintain their aggression. The only consolation is that it is often equally difficult for batsmen to time the ball.
Wherever there is cricket in the Caribbean there is music, and this ground is no exception. Between overs the tunes of Bob Marley and other reggae singers blast out of a sound system, but the disc jockey always has his finger on the pulse. When Hoggard trapped Dwayne Bravo plum in front, Marley's "Three Little Birds" - with a chorus of "Don't worry about a thing, cos every little thing's gonna be all right!'' - greeted his departure from the crease.
The dismissal of Kennedy Otieno did not receive the same sympathy from the DJ even though he received a ball from Harmison which he could do little about. Pushing forward at a delivery which stopped and bounced, the Kenyan looked on helplessly as a simple catch lobbed to Jones at cover.
The only other bowler used during the morning was Ashley Giles, who bowled 10 overs before the interval. Using a spinner in this way on the first morning of a match is an interesting tactic. It suggests that Giles will carry a heavy workload during this four-Test series and that England's plans for taking 20 wickets in these games will not be totally reliant on pace.
Jamaica Vice Chancellor's XI won toss; first day of three
Vice Chancellor's XI - First Innings (Lunch)
J A M Haynes not out 43
K O Otieno c Jones b Harmison 6
D J J Bravo lbw b Hoggard 4
S O Tikolo not out 14
Extras (lb1 w1 nb10) 12
Total 2 wkts (30 overs) 79
Fall: 1-12 2-37.
To Bat: D E Bernard, D J G Sammy, T A Willett, R P O Nurse, J P Bennett, J J C Lawson, R O Cunningham.
Bowling: Hoggard 8-1-31-1; Harmison 6-3-8-1; Giles 10-4-16-0; Jones 4-1-16-0.
Umpires: C Fletcher and N Malcolm.