England in Bangladesh 2009-10 March 4, 2010

Flower defends England training regime


England are facing the prospect of going into next week's first Test against Bangladesh without a single one of the four fast bowlers who played a part in the recent 1-1 drawn series against South Africa, after the squad's build-up to the final ODI at Chittagong began to resemble a scene from MASH.

With James Anderson resting back at home after experiencing knee problems in South Africa, England confirmed on Thursday that Ryan Sidebottom will be joining him on the sidelines after failing to recover from a thigh strain. Meanwhile, there are serious concerns about Stuart Broad and Graham Onions, both of whom have been sent for MRI scans after sustaining injuries to their lower backs.

The upshot is that England's seam attack for the first Test at Chittagong in eight days' time could be one of their least experienced since Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard led the line in India in 2001-02.

Liam Plunkett, with nine Test caps (but none since 2007) is now the senior seamer still standing, with the promoted Tim Bresnan (two) coming next. Ajmal Shahzad and Middlesex's Steven Finn, who will link up with the squad in the next couple of days, have yet to make their Test debuts.

The situation forced England's coach, Andy Flower, to mount a determined defence of the team's training methods, which have led some former players - including members of the travelling media - to suggest that too much emphasis is being placed on physical fitness, and not enough on bowling fitness.

"The pace in which the game is played is such that there is a lot of stress put on bodies," Flower told reporters at Chittagong. "I've heard some criticism of the amount of work the guys put in, but to play at the intensity required, people will continue to seek a constant peak in their physical shape.

"I think the intensity at which the game is played ensures that," he added. "We're always trying to find the right balance between high intensity training and too much. But fast bowlers are going to get injured. And that's the nature of their job."

Prior to England's arrival in Bangladesh, Flower had insisted that the squad would not be using the tour as a fitness "boot camp", as Michael Vaughan's men had done on their last visit to the country in 2003-04. He also said that, under the supervision of their new physiologist, Huw Bevan, the players were arguably as fit as any group of players in recent memory.

But that does not square with the glut of injuries to which the squad has succumbed, and while it is still possible that Broad and Onions will recover sufficiently to play a part in the Test series, Sidebottom's tour is confirmed to be over. At the age of 32, and following a string of setbacks that limited him to a solitary Test and nine ODIs in the past 12 months, it's questionable whether he will be risked in an England squad again.

For now, however, Flower is retaining faith in a bowler who carried England's attack through a difficult 2007-08 season which ended with him being named as their Player of the Year. "As long as Ryan's bowling well enough he'll definitely get a chance," said Flower. "I don't know if that can be seen or not, but he's put a lot of hard work into his physical fitness."

"Unfortunately he has not been able to sustain fitness for very long - he's a fast bowler in his early 30s so he is going to pick up more niggles. But he's still a quality bowler and we will assess his condition as we go along."

In the short term, however, the bulk of England's concern centres on Stuart Broad, whose allround abilities have made him an integral part of their plans in all three formats. His mobility was visibly restricted as he arrived in Chittagong with the squad on Wednesday evening, a situation that had not been helped by a four-hour delay en route, and Flower was braced for bad news when the results of his back scan return.

"Broady's really struggling," said Flower. "He's done something to the facet joint in his lower back. He and Onions have been playing successful Test cricket for a while now so they will be losses. But if they get injured there's nothing you can do about it and it's an opportunity for someone else.

That someone could yet be Finn who, like Shahzad, caught the coach's eye during a training session in Pretoria before Christmas, when the High Performance Programme trained alongside the senior squad. With his 6'7" frame, Finn's lanky frame would ensure unsettling bounce even on Bangladesh's unresponsive surfaces, as Steve Harmison demonstrated with nine wickets at Dhaka on England's last tour.

"I've only seen Steven Finn twice," said Flower. "Once in the nets in Pretoria and then when the Lions played against England in Abu Dhabi. I thought he bowled really well there too. He's got natural pace and height, but I've only seen him on those two occasions so it will be interesting to see him close-up."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo. Go to http://twitter.com/miller_cricket to follow him on Twitter through the England tour of Bangladesh.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jackie on March 9, 2010, 8:23 GMT

    A lot of these injuries are actually picked up fielding. Bowlers are put on the boundaries and they are always crashing and diving around insanely to prevent one run. This is a new practice compared to 50 years ago and should be roundly condemned. It has ruined Jones' career. How many more? Sidebottom recently was hurling himself, diving and sliding, and often failing, to prevent that one run. Was that after or before he picked up his injury?

  • Gavin on March 6, 2010, 12:32 GMT

    @Ned Yes ehe intesity is higher because they play ten times the amount of cricket the guys did 50 years ago. Back then they played maybe 5 tests a year and that was it. Its a given that fast bowelrs are are going to get injured. The best of them come back and keep playing, others fall by the wayside. Its unfortunate that Eng dont have a first choice seam attack but it does give the other guys a chance to show what they can do. Injuries are no excuse for losing a test match, its part of the game and Id hope that Eng would not be using that as an excuse if Bangladesh do manage a win.

  • Dummy4 on March 5, 2010, 10:15 GMT

    I think Trott will be fine (if he plays), no offence meant, but Bangladesh are hardly going to pile pressure on him like the SA's did so I think he should be alright and get back into a bit of form. But with KP it's harder to tell as no one can really know whats going on, he just seems shot of what ever he had before that made him so good (personally I think it's the blonde streak). I think 'pace' bowlers is the wrong term for the England bowling attack, it's mild, not very pacy in my opinion, I'm not sure if it's just me but my interpretation of a pace bowler would be a Lee, Johnson, Tait, Nannes, Steyn ect. Not Sidebottom, Bresnan, Shazahd. The closest we've got is probably Anderson or Broad, and even then they're mostly around mid-80's. They do the job fairly well, it's just I want to see someone charge in and genuinely worry a batsman... Anyways, rant over.

  • kas on March 5, 2010, 1:07 GMT

    Barry I think u've become a high-light in this forum, but don't worry too much because England still is a good team and you guys still have a hand full of pace bowlers sitting at home still waiting to be called up by the ECB. Despite being a bangladeshi supporter, i'm not bias and still consider England to be slightly more experienced, but you guys need to understand and except it that the gap between the two teams are marginal and Bangladesh cannot be walked all over like the horrid past. It won't be too long when Bangladesh beat the top teams and the media won't mention the word ''UPSET''. Goog luck tigers!!!!

  • Anwarul on March 5, 2010, 0:04 GMT

    I agree with Barry here. I hope to see a test series win. go tigers go.

  • Ned on March 4, 2010, 23:53 GMT

    So it's the fault of the "pace of the game"? What, the 12-overs-an-hour pace? Cricket goes more slowly, in terms of actual action for the bowlers, than it has ever done before. And it's an insult to previous generations to suggest that the "intensity" is higher now - I don't doubt the current players give their all, but who are we to say they weren't giving their all 50 years ago too? Perhaps if they stopped coaching their bowlers to have actions which generate 1mph more pace, and switched them to actions which can actually withstand proper cricket, they might not get injured quite so often.

  • Simon on March 4, 2010, 23:28 GMT

    I think Barry you might be over-reacting somewhat. Bangladesh have made some huge leaps forward in their one day cricket but I, like Sehwag, see nothing in their attack that should bowl a good batting lineup out twice. Their best quick in Mortaza isn't playing and mostly they get by with young left arm slow bowlers. Once you've mastered one you've mastered them all. One of those two South Africans wont be playing Test Cricket, I hope, and the other is the only geniune worldclass batsman we have. He's committed himself to England heart and soul and the way he's been treated by the ECB, the media and certain England fans you have to wonder why. The man carried our batting line up pretty much throughout 2007/08 and everyone is allowed to go through poor form. The only thing that will help Kevin Pieterson out is time in the middle and a an innings like the 177 that Strauss played. We're lucky to have him frankly, I shudder to think what the last 4 years would have been without him.

  • Robert on March 4, 2010, 23:01 GMT

    Good bye Barry's money, in that case.

  • Dummy4 on March 4, 2010, 22:35 GMT

    So, wait a second... what you're saying is that there was a similar situation way back when in India, and on that occasion two rookies named Flintoff and Hoggard played? Well, things went really badly for them, didn't they :) Perhaps this is an opportunity. Glass half full etc. etc.

  • Steve on March 4, 2010, 22:06 GMT

    Since when has Sidebottom become a "fast bowler in his early 30s" - he is a left arm pie chucker who can take a few wickets when conditions suit, nothing more. Get over the injuries thing, this happens. Australia has a full strength bowling attack out of action at the moment and is still playing OK.

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