Pacemen on fitness fast track
England hope to have pacemen Steve Harmison and James Anderson bowling by the end of the first practice match of the Test tour of Sri Lanka.
Although both are doubtful of starting the three-day contest against a Sri Lanka Cricket Board President’s XI - Harmison is not scheduled to land from South Africa until 9am and Anderson has a back niggle which will be monitored by the medical staff - it is envisaged they will get their chance at some point.
England will remain cautious with fast bowler Anderson after stiffness hampered his initial spells in the nets.
Anderson, 25, has a history of back trouble - a stress fracture kept him sidelined for the entire 2006 international summer - and although he bowled with more freedom in the Premadasa Stadium nets on Monday, there is no need to rush, with all 16 of the touring squad permitted to take part against a strong Board side.
“You’re always aware with injuries, so that is partly why we said if he wasn’t right he was not to bowl,” said coach Peter Moores, referring to Anderson’s aborted spell in a lunchtime practice session.
“It is early on and we still have a reasonable amount of build-up time. The physios feel it is an early twinge but we will be careful with it.
“They are expecting him to be better tomorrow (Tuesday) and to be able to take a part in this game but we will have to wait and see.”
Harmison arrives from Johannesburg with bowling coach Ottis Gibson, having had his tour place rubber-stamped on Monday morning.
But, having done enough to persuade Moores, captain Michael Vaughan and chairman of selectors David Graveney he is in good shape by getting through two first-class matches for Highveld Lions, he will have little time to prove he is somewhere near his most threatening.
“We asked Steve to commit to going to South Africa for three weeks to train and get himself ready, give himself the best possible chance to play,” said Moores.
“We wanted to make the decision at the end of that trip whether he could come over here because the message is you have to be in good enough form to play for England as well.
“Steve committed to that and I feel he has got far enough down the line - he fielded for 190 overs in this last game - to show his physical fitness and bowling fitness.
“He said his body feels good, so it is right now to bring him over here, let him join the squad and then he joins everybody else in what is a very competitive environment for that first Test.”
Gibson reported back to the team management on his former Durham colleague Harmison’s form but the trial is far from over for a man whose 2007 season was ravaged by injury.
Since rising to number one in the Test bowling rankings back in 2004, the 29-year-old has struggled to emulate the kind of form that got him there on a consistent basis.
As a centrally-contracted player, bringing Harmison to Sri Lanka allows England’s management the chance to oversee his continued rehabilitation from his recent back injury, with longer-term commitments also in mind.
“Obviously Steve has got a lot of experience in his locker but he is going to have to be in the right place to play,” said Moores.
“We deliberately did it this way - to attach Steve to the squad providing he went through the fitness - because international cricket does not start and end with this tour, it is an ongoing thing.
“The work we can do with him and he can do himself can be positive because after here we go home for a month and then head off to New Zealand.
“Whatever happens we can make it positive because in international cricket now you need a bank of bowlers due to the demands of playing.
“How many of those bowlers we will need in this series we don’t know but we play 15 days out of 22, so that is a pretty tough schedule in its own right.
“How much we tap into the squad is uncertain, we will have to see how people go, the length of Test matches, what we end up doing and how it fits.
“But to have all those options available in what is going to be a really intense period of cricket in December is important.”
While England can substitute players in and out of the three-day contest at Colombo Cricket Club, Moores said: “We will try to make the transition of players on the field as least messy as possible partly for the spectators but also for ourselves, as we want the match to feel real.”