England's preparations for tomorrow's fourth Test at Old Trafford, already hit by injuries, were disrupted further yesterday when Darren Gough missed practice to undergo a scan on his left foot, prompting fears that he has another stress fracture.
The Yorkshire fast bowler, who returned home early from England's tour of Australia after breaking down in the Sydney Test in January, expressed his concern about some soreness in the same foot on arrival in Manchester and was dispatched to hospital. It also emerged yesterday that Yorkshire had sent Gough to hospital for an X-ray on Friday, which revealed no abnormality, and England were informed of the results before the weekend selection meeting.
Ray Illingworth, the chairman of selectors, was curiously unwilling to divulge details of Gough's injury yesterday. "There is a slight problem and we are just having it checked out," he said. "I don't want to say what it is. There might not be a problem at the finish, in which case I will not say anything. But if there is any doubt at all, he will not play."
Gough joins Alec Stewart, Jason Gallian, Richard Illingworth and Peter Martin on England's injury list. The first three suffered assorted hand injuries during England's humiliating defeat in the last Test at Edgbaston. Martin, unexpectedly available for a Sunday League appearance for Lancashire as a result, promptly tore ankle ligaments.
Should a replacement for Gough be summoned, it will, Illingworth said, "be a seamer of the left-arm variety", which probably means Mark Ilott of Essex, or perhaps Durham's Simon Brown. There is no question of a recall for Devon Malcolm, whom Illingworth ruled out in typically outspoken style.
"I'll say this about Devon," he said. "The way for Devon to get in the side is to go out and get some bloody wickets for Derbyshire. He limped off in the last match, didn't he? Now 1 for 62 in 10 overs and going off is not the way to get in a Test side."
Illingworth gave few clues on who might be left out of the 13 originally chosen, insisting that he still had three possible teams in mind, even after examining the Old Trafford wicket, which he expects to have pace and bounce, and turn on the last day "as they have all season here".
He dropped a sizeable hint, however, that the retention of Graeme Hick is not certain. Although he praised the Worcestershire batsman's contribution to the Lord's Test and exonerated him over Edgbaston, it was when asked about Hick's continuing struggle to reproduce his consistently impressive county form at Test level that he betrayed the possibility of his omission.
Illingworth took Hick to one side last summer to discuss the mental part of his game. Yesterday, he said he might do so again "if he plays in this game. There is no doubt that he has the talent and ability to succeed in Test cricket, but getting him to reproduce it at this level is a slight problem. If he plays in this game we will have a chat before he bats, to put him in a positive frame of mind."
One player almost certain of his place is the left-handed opener Nick Knight. His selection emphasises Essex's folly in allowing him to leave, disillusioned, to join the champions, Warwickshire, during the winter. He has yet to score a first-class century for his new county, but averages in the mid-fifties.
The 25-year-old moved into the frame on the England A tour of India last winter. His arrival on the bigger stage will not surprise Brian Lara, who was impressed by Knight's 113 for Essex at Edgbaston last season and told him so. "He said I was the best youngster he had seen," Knight said. "That's stuck with me and I want to prove it to him big."