Stuart Broad is an injury doubt for the first Test against Australia next week but England will be able to count on Graeme Swann at Trent Bridge after initially fearing a broken arm might rule the spinner out of the Ashes.
Broad missed this four-day warm-up game against Essex, which England won by 228 runs, and has had a cortisone injection in his right shoulder. Team coach Andy Flower hopes the fast bowler will be fit to play on his home ground starting next Wednesday but admitted he had missed this match because of the injury, sustained during the Champions Trophy final against India on 23 June.
England were also very worried about Swann for two hours on Monday, after he had been struck on the arm by Essex quick Tymal Mills. "We thought he had cracked his ulna [a bone in the forearm]," revealed Flower. An X-ray showed that Swann had suffered no fracture.
"It was badly swollen, both when he was batting and afterwards," Flower continued. "There were great concerns about him. For a couple of hours, we thought he might have been missing, which would have been a serious blow.When he came into the dressing room, I was surprised how swollen it was, but I was also impressed by how well he played the fast bowler after he had been hit. He is a joky sort of a character but that was a good example of his resilience. It was important for him to bowl 21 overs in this game and it was nice to see him bowl with that sort of quality."
Swann took 5 for 68 in Essex's second innings of a match that lost its first-class status on day three, when injuries to three of the county's players threatened to reduce the game to a farce.
Luckily for England, Essex agreed to tinker with the format, and promising bowlers Reece Topley and Boyd Rankin, the Warwickshire player who was in the original England squad for this game, were allowed to bowl for Essex.
While an injury to Broad would be a setback for England, Steven Finn, Tim Bresnan, Graham Onions and even Rankin represent reassuring fast-bowling cover. The spin department is not quite so well-stocked.
Swann is an excellent Test bowler and a genuinely attacking off-spinner. With so many left-handed batsmen in the Australia squad, it is not stretching a point to say that the 34-year-old Swann is England's key player.
With due respect to James Tredwell and Monty Panesar, one of whom would most likely replace him, Swann's absence would have weakened England severely.
"I was a bit worried at first, when I was hit," Swann conceded. "I'm not used to being smashed by rockets. Tymal Mills was a bit too quick for me and Tim Bresnan, and Essex have some really exciting prospects.
"I felt I needed a lengthy bowl as I played only one game in the Champions Trophy and I didn't bowl in Essex's first innings here. I was keen to get 20 overs under my belt and to pick up a few wickets was very nice too."
Flower appeared confident about Broad, who has suffered several injury problems since he was forced to leave the 2010-11 Ashes tour after the second Test because of a side strain.
Broad and Jimmy Anderson are England's first-choice new-ball pair and the Nottinghamshire player's absence would disrupt plans that have been carefully prepared.
Flower said: "He should be okay. He had the cortisone injection and the shoulder reacted pretty well. He bowled on the outfield at tea, which was his first effort since the injury and I was pleasantly surprised.
"We anticipate that he will be fit and we hope there will be no more problems with the shoulder for the rest of the summer."
There was guarded praise for Nick Compton, who has made consecutive half-centuries for Somerset and Worcestershire against the Australians after being discarded by England. Yet for those who support Compton's cause, Flower offered little hope of a recall for the first Test.
Onions also caught the eye with 4 for 43 in the second innings, but there appears scant likelihood of a rethink when the squad for the first Ashes encounter is named at the weekend.
"Before this game, we were pretty clear about what our squad and what our XI for Trent Bridge would be," said Flower. "I'm not going to talk about individuals, but we're pretty clear about what our XI will be."
With the first-class status removed, this game lacked intensity on the final two days, and England did well to remain focused.
Jonny Bairstow is, however, another source of disquiet for England. Without a first-class innings since the second Test against New Zealand in May, he needed batting practice here but made only 23 and 28. If he bats at No 6 at Trent Bridge, as seems likely, the Yorkshire player will have little red-ball cricket behind him.
- More about:
- Essex, England
- Great Britain
- New Cross
- South Asia