England's quest to retain the Ashes was severely disrupted yesterday by injuries to Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior. The extent of the damage in both cases is yet to be determined but the tourists will be concerned that one or both will miss the opening Test in Brisbane in 11 days' time.
Pietersen is again suffering pain in his right knee, which forced him to miss three Test matches earlier this year. Although Andy Flower, the England coach, is confident he will recover, Pietersen was due to fly to Melbourne today for a scan and cortisone injection instead of travelling to Sydney with the squad after their week in Hobart.
Also worrying for the England camp is the tight calf which kept Prior off the field on the final day of the tour match against Australia A yesterday. He felt discomfort while batting and although he played on, Joe Root assumed the wicketkeeping duties for the 31 overs that the home side batted in the rain-ruined game.
Both would be considerable losses for England at any time but they would be more keenly felt at the start at The Gabba where Australia have not lost for 24 years. England's batting has not been so assured lately that they can easily replace Pietersen.
Prior has played 57 successive Tests since 2009 and is part of the England furniture. While he had a lean summer with the bat by his standards, he is integral to everything the team do in the field and he is the vice-captain.
It is less than a year since Pietersen first complained of severe soreness in his knee in New Zealand. At the time it was not thought to be serious but eventually he flew home from that tour and was then absent at the start of the English season.
That experience at least heralds the possibility that the present optimism may be misplaced. Flower said: "I don't think it's going to be a huge issue. He's had a couple of these injections before and they have been very successful and quietened the problem down.
"It's obviously an ongoing issue for him but we anticipate this one being successful and him playing a full part in the Ashes tour."
Flower must feel at present that everything that can go wrong is doing so. Alastair Cook, the captain, missed the first tour match because of a stiff back and the second game was wrecked by rain with two full days being lost.
The weather relented sufficiently for 66 overs to be possible on the final day of the match yesterday, which at least allowed Pietersen, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann to have their first cricket of the winter. But Prior's absence immediately brought forth dark clouds of a different kind.
"His experience is very valuable to us," said Flower. "However, if he is injured and unavailable, Jonny Bairstow will step up. Bairstow is a very good young cricketer and will bring his own qualities to the England side.
"If that happens, he could be man of the match in Brisbane. None of us know exactly what is going to happen."
England batted on briefly yesterday, taking their score to 430 for 7 with Root hitting an assured, unbeaten fifty against better bowling. Jimmy Anderson took two wickets as Australia A finished on 118 for 3, while Chris Tremlett, encouragingly for the tourists, put in an improved performance.
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