Tremlett heads for home as Strauss and Harmison boost England

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The Independent Online

What is it with the England Test team, can't these fellas stay fit? For four weeks the one-day side flung itself around the outfields of New Zealand without suffering discomfort or injury, but when pristine whites replace the blue uniforms the dressing room suddenly begins to resemble a scene from M.A.S.H.

Fortunately for England most of the complaints, with the exception of Chris Tremlett who will return home before the first Test after re-aggravating the side strain he sustained last weekend, have been nothing more than aches and niggles. But it is still far from reassuring when three of the probable Test side are in regular dialogue with the physiotherapist. Matthew Hoggard paid him a visit too yesterday after leaving the field with an upset stomach.

Paul Collingwood was the latest regular to limp from play after injuring his right hamstring on the opening day of England's three-day match against a New Zealand Selection XI. The ailment is reported to be as severe as Ryan Sidebottom's hamstring injury, a grade one tear, but both are expected to be fit for Tuesday's first Test in Hamilton. Collingwood would have batted yesterday had he been needed.

Despite these ongoing concerns England had an encouraging day here in Dunedin with Stephen Harmison, who has been complaining of a stiff lower back since arriving in New Zealand, and Andrew Strauss producing performances that should guarantee them places in the first Test. Harmison took 5 for 100 as England bowled the Selection XI out for 271, while Strauss finished the second day unbeaten on 55.

Strauss and Kevin Pietersen, who struck his second half-century of the game, allowed England to erase their first-innings deficit, but more runs are required from the middle order if they are to avoid an embarrassing defeat. Strauss batted with calmness and skill and his 50 was warmly greeted by England's dressing room. Strauss has been working on playing straighter since being dropped after the English summer.

The 30-year-old felt he was planting his front foot too far in the direction of off stump when playing forward, an error that caused him to play around his front pad. Now he does not move his right foot so far from leg to off, an alteration that makes it easier for him to get his bat at a straight ball. A glorious straight drive down the ground for four suggested that the left-hander's practice was paying off. Strauss, a specialist opener, was again in early after Vaughan edged a good ball from Mark Gillespie through to the keeper. The England captain will spend the next four days trying to find form in the nets. Alastair Cook wasted another chance for good practice when he top-edged a hook to square leg, and it was left to Strauss and Pietersen to ensure that England avoided a two-day defeat.

The selectors played Tremlett here as a possible replacement for Harmison in case the big man failed to perform well enough, and had he not injured his side he may well have played in Hamilton. His aim now will be to be fit for Hampshire at the start of the season.

Harmison's fortune changed in the fourth over of a 10-over spell when Grant Elliott gloved a leg-sided catch to wicketkeeper, Tim Ambrose. The very next ball bowled Mark Orchard but the hat-trick delivery harmlessly passed through to Ambrose. Bevan Griggs and Jeetan Patel each edged a catch through to the keeper to give Harmison what should have been a confidence boosting five-wicket haul.

Yet at the press conference Harmison, did not seem totally convinced by his performance. "My bowling has got marginally better the more and more I have bowled," he said. "I enjoyed it, and to get a five-wicket haul was great. There were some quick balls, some good balls and some bad balls.

"Lengthy spells seem to be helping me but I don't know how far away I am from where I want to be. I tried a few things out throughout my spell, things I had been working on with Ottis Gibson [England's bowling coach] but there was an element of trial and error. I am the sort of bowler who takes time to get used to being in a different country.

"I will just keep working at it, trying hard and hopefully it will continue to get better and better." Selectors, make what you can from that.