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.