Tremlett's back injury puts England role on ice

Fragile fast bowler has to sit out practice session as latest niggle raises fears for his long-term future

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The Independent Online

Among the masses of kit that England carry around with them they should pack an infinite supply of cotton wool balls. In these each night, and any time he was not playing, could be wrapped the fast bowler Chris Tremlett.

Not for the first time in his career, Tremlett was yesterday withdrawn from consideration for a Test team after his stiff back declined to loosen up in time for the second match of this series against Pakistan. Tremlett's giant, sculptured body has proved almost permanently fragile and this latest niggle raises doubts about his long-term future as an international fast bowler.

He has played only 11 Tests since being regularly 12th man in the 2005 Ashes series and the disappointment at his perennial absences must be compounded by the fact that he has usually been outstanding, with his 6ft 8in frame rolling rhythmically into the crease. Recalled after more than three years in the Ashes last winter, he played a key role in securing the series victory and took 17 wickets in three matches including the last of all at Sydney to confirm the 3-1 win.

Tremlett has taken 49 wickets at 26.76 since making his debut against India in 2007 and in only one innings – in the first Test of this series – has he failed to take a wicket. His injury woes around the England team began in late 2005 when he had to pull out of tours to Pakistan and India to have surgery on his hip and knee.

By last summer, it seemed at last that he was here to stay. But he sustained a hamstring injury at Lord's against India and then suffered a back spasm before the second Test at Trent Bridge which kept him out of the rest of the series.

His absence was not officially notified yesterday but since he spent England's practice session sitting rather uncomfortably on an ice box, the conclusion was easy to draw. Steve Finn bowled in the same net as Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad and it looked as if his Test career was set to resume.

England went into the match well aware that prising a victory in the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium to level the series at 1-1 would be the tallest of orders. The only two previous Tests on the ground have both been draws with only 54 of the available 80 wickets being taken.

This must have at least encouraged the England captain, Andrew Strauss, about his chances of making runs. With only one hundred in his last 42 Test innings and with his average heading south, he needs a substantial score.

Nobody should consider that his place in the team is remotely in doubt, or that his authority has been diminished one iota, but it is becoming an issue. Strauss seemed relaxed as usual during his pre-Test briefing yesterday and mused on combining the responsibilities of batting with those of captain, which have been around for as long as the game has been played.

"It can work both ways," he said. "You're obviously busier and you've got a lot of other things on your mind but sometimes that's not a bad thing as a batsman. Over-analysing your game and getting too concerned by technical worries or whatever can put you in a bad place mentally. But generally I've found being captain has helped my game and hopefully that'll continue to be the case."

Strauss still averages more than 40 since assuming the captaincy three years ago this month, but since the start of last summer it has fallen to 23. He is not about to restructure his game.

He said: "I think maybe when you're young and naive you're always looking for that magic answer so you'll be changing your technique, you'll be trying different things in the nets. I think when you're a bit older you realise the best thing to do is to keep everything the same, keep your preparation the same, don't have too many concerns about your technique and make sure you watch the ball.

"I think that's the best recipe for doing well but it's always a challenge mentally. Anyone who is under any illusion that Test match cricket gets any easier as you get older is wrong, it's always tough but I suppose that's why they call it Test cricket." Indeed they do, as England will rediscover over the next few days.