Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Luke Wright could rise from the ranks at Centurion

• England admit concern over James Anderson's knee injury
• Two-day warm-up match for first Test threatened by rain

The bustling, eager figure of Luke Wright moved closer to making his Test debut against South Africa next week after it was announced that James Anderson would miss the first of England's two back-to-back warm-up matches, which is due to start at Buffalo Park tomorrow.

It felt more like Water Buffalo Park today after the already sodden outfield had been topped up by heavy overnight rain. But, though the players were able to have a net outdoors, Anderson did not bowl and for the first time the England management admitted their concern over his fitness for the Centurion Test, which begins next Wednesday.

At this stage Anderson is likely to play in the second two-day match, which is scheduled to start here on Friday, and go on to play at Centurion. But even if that is the case, England would be reluctant to go into the Test match with Anderson as one of only four bowlers, which would open up a place for Wright at No7.

When Andy Flower was asked whether there was a question mark over the fitness of his leading fast bowler for the Test, he said: "Yes, there is." The England team director added: "He is one of our main bowlers, our strike bowler. I think he'll be ready." But after a number of scans and injections the condition of the bowler's right knee is still the focal point of worried conjecture.

"What we know is there is nothing structurally wrong with it," Flower said. "He has had various scans and they can't find anything wrong with the structures in the knee, so he is not going to damage himself terribly by playing, but what would debilitate him is the pain which makes it too sore to perform at 100%.

"We want to give him more time for those injections he had on Saturday to work properly. Those injections have worked significantly better than the first set about three weeks ago so that bodes well but I think the second game is better timing for him."

Ryan Sidebottom is having treatment for a side injury and he, Anderson and Graham Onions have been pencilled in for the second game. The other seamers, including Wright, will probably play tomorrow.

Still talking about Anderson, Flower went on: "There must be something wrong but nothing is going to snap or it's not cartilage that's going to wear away or anything like that. You would have to talk to the doctor about what it could be – he has a couple of theories on it."

Wright is a batting all-rounder – his good friend Stuart Broad weighs his skills the other way round. The Sussex player is an old-fashioned ball-biffer and a charge-in bowler who has caught the eye with a number of exuberant one-day performances.

He is, first and foremost, an enthusiast. The selectors like his attitude and some of them feel that with a little more judicious shot selection he could become a substantial batsman. One of the selectors, Ashley Giles, is expected to arrive tomorrow.

"Wright's a possibility, yes," said Flower, alluding to the Centurion Test. "He always seems to make contributions in one-day cricket. It might be a great one-handed catch or a quick 20 off 12 balls or he picks up an important wicket as he did through the series and even in the warm-up games.

"He kept nipping in with important contributions. He still has a long way to go before he becomes a fully fledged, skilful Test cricketer but he is an option for us at No7 as someone who can bowl some useful overs and make a breakthrough."

Mark Davies, who has been added to the squad as cover for Anderson, is another bowler who looks capable of making a breakthrough. He bowled well here today beside the tarpaulins and hot air blowers. Buffalo Park certainly did not look in the mood to stage a cricket match and any further rain is likely to impede a prompt start.

England have played only three days' cricket in 22 and indoor facilities here are poor. But Flower denied that an outbreak of cabin fever was imminent.

"I don't think it's a huge problem," he said. "Most important is getting out there to play this game. The forecast looks a bit iffy for the first couple of days but we should get most of the games in. A couple of days doesn't mean the guys get cabin fever. The gym around the corner is a godsend and we were able to train in the dunes on the first day, so it's fine."

Fine is hardly the word for England's cricket-starved players. The batsmen, who have been briefed by Graham Gooch ("He is brilliant," said Flower) will be told to concentrate on time in the middle tomorrow. If they do so they will have webbed feet.

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