England's hopes of winning their second Test series of the summer were hit by the severest of blows yesterday, when Marcus Trescothick, their leading batsman, was ruled out of action for the rest of the season, after suffering a multiple fracture to his left thumb.
The injury occurred during Somerset's Cheltenham & Gloucester quarter-final game against Worcestershire at Taunton, when Graeme Hick smashed a ball straight at England's vice-captain, who was fielding at extra cover.
On realising the extent of the injury Trescothick ran off the field and was rushed to hospital for an X-ray, after which everyone's worst fears were confirmed. The powerful left-hander, who has been in magnificent form for England all summer, may require surgery to repair the damage, but this decision will only be made once the local hand specialist – who interrupted his day off to see him – and the specialist who represents the England and Wales Cricket Board have agreed on what is the correct course of action.
Trescothick's injury was the second piece of bad news to reach the England selectors from Taunton and would have made last night's selection meeting far more interesting than could originally have been imagined.
Andrew Caddick's absence from the aforementioned game, with a rib injury that has kept him out of action since England's third Test against Sri Lanka at Old Trafford a month ago, was their other source of disappointment.
The Somerset fast bowler is still some way from regaining full fitness and Kevin Shine, his county coach, said: "I would be amazed if he was fit for the first Test. He had a fitness test yesterday and didn't come through it that well. He still has a couple of weeks of rehab to do. There are four Tests left and maybe he can get in a couple at the end."
The expected squad for the first Test against India at Lord's, starting next Thursday, would have contained few, if any, surprises but, with these withdrawals, the successful side who convincingly beat Sri Lanka 2-0 have lost two of their leading players.
There was some good news around for the troubled selectors but this will only be confirmed after the weekend, if Darren Gough and Mark Butcher successfully come through four-day games with their counties. The progress of both players will be followed closely, particularly that of Butcher, who is playing his first game of cricket since an operation on his left knee almost a month ago.
While Gough appears to be recovering well from his own knee problem, he has yet to get through the more rigorous challenges of a four or five day game. Playing one-day cricket is hard work, but 10 overs in a day is a doddle compared to the 40 overs he may have to bowl through a two-day stint in the field during a Test match. More than anything, he needs to convince himself he can get through such a workload.
The problems of Trescothick, Caddick, Gough and Butcher problems may be physical but those that Matthew Hoggard and Alex Tudor have to overcome are psychological. Despite Trescothick's injury, it will be the fast bowling that is causing most concern for the England captain, Nasser Hussain. Between them, Hoggard and Tudor went for more than 6.5 runs per over in the 37.1 overs they bowled at India during the one-day series, and, even though a Test match throws up a different set of circumstances, under that now white shirt is the same person who wore sky blue two weeks earlier.
As for possible replacements, the bowling will not alter a great deal, as Gough comes in for Caddick, but the selection of a batsman could be more contentious. The selectors this year have shown a reluctance to go for youth and it is difficult to see them changing their stance. It would be nice to see them select an Ian Bell, Robert Key or Andrew Strauss, but the likelihood is they will go for the safety-first option of John Crawley or Mark Ramprakash.
ENGLAND Probable Test squad: N Hussain (capt), M P Vaughan, M A Butcher, G P Thorpe, A J Stewart (wkt), J P Crawley, A Flintoff, A J Tudor, A F Giles, D Gough, M J Hoggard, S P Jones, I Bell.
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