And still they keep falling like the flies that beset Australia. Another England Ashes hero flew home yesterday and will miss the rest of the one-day series here in a desperate attempt to ensure fitness for the World Cup.
Graeme Swann has joined Tim Bresnan in leaving the tour early, with some concern that he may not make the start of the tournament on 22 February. Swann, who had already suffered a severely bruised knee, was sent home after he also strained his lower back while bending down. Bresnan, who arrived in England yesterday, has a torn calf muscle.
Both will need intensive and extensive treatment if they are to take their place in the side against the Netherlands for England’s opening match of the World Cup and, perhaps more saliently, for their second against India at Eden Gardens in Kolkata five days later.
The damage to both bowlers is indicative of England’s demanding schedule in the last 12 weeks. Five Test matches in six weeks are being followed by nine limited overs matches all over the country. It would be no surprise at all if more players were to fall by the wayside before the team flies home for three days next month.
There was mildly more optimistic news about fast bowler Stuart Broad, who has returned to Australia after missing the last three Ashes matches because of an abdominal strain. He bowled gently in the Adelaide nets but is not expected to play in the next fortnight. All the right noises were being made yesterday about winning the Commonwealth Bank Series, but England might trade a dozen of them for one World Cup.
“It’s unsurprising, it’s a long, hard tour, not only do we play high intensity international cricket but we also train at high intensity,” said the England coach, Andy Flower in announcing Swann’s departure. “There are serious demands on these guys, we are almost three months into this tour and you can see some of the physical strains they are under.
“I think you would be naïve to believe you could get through unscathed and this is why we rest players or take them out of cricket to go on strengthening programmes because these are the demands they are under.”
Swann will be missed by England. He is by some distance their most superior spin bowler, who not only concedes runs at fewer than five runs an over but has one of the best strike rates among all slow bowlers, taking a wicket every 32 balls. It places a burden on the number two spinner, Mike Yardy, to take wickets in the middle of the innings, that he may not be able to carry. This will be crucial in the World Cup.
“He has strained his lower back, as well as having a strangely formed kneecap,” said Flower of Swann. “He is going to go home. There is no point keeping him here any longer, it is unlikely he will be able to play any part in this series at all. It gives him time to rest and recover from his injuries and be refreshed and spend some time at home.”
“I think he was bending down to pick something up and it just went. He has had an issue with his lower back before, I think he has a strangely formed lower back as well. It’s not ideal but that is the situation as it now stands. As soon as his back and knee settle down he will train with Notts so the sooner the better I hope.”
Swann’s wife is due to give birth to their first child next month and he was not expected to join England until two days before their opening match in Nagpur. But England were extremely keen for him to have some more cricket before then since he is notoriously slow to find his rhythm after a lay-off as he amply demonstrated at the start of the this tour.
Fortunately, England had a long run-in and by the time the Test series began he was in peak condition. That will not be the case in India where he will have to hit the ground running. Flower may have little option but to play him against the Netherlands to ensure he has some bowling under his belt before India come along.
Swann said: It's frustrating to return home from the tour early but the priority for me now is the World Cup and getting my body right so that I am able to play an important role for England throughout the tournament. I will be following the rest of the series and hope to see England put in some positive performances over the next fortnight. I've had the time of my life over here and bringing back the Ashes is something that will always stay with me.”
For all England’s understandably righteous protestations about this one-day series, their entire winter was always bound to be shaped by the events which book-ended it, the Ashes series, already safely won, and the World Cup. But to have a chance of standing the trophies alongside each other they need their best side.
As Flower said: “The timeline is tight for Swann and Bresnan, who has a grade one or two tear in his calf. So it is going to be tight for him to be fully fit come that first game. Given we have only three nights at home between the two tours, it is possible we might not have 15 fit guys.” Which will be a dangerous game indeed.