England news August 17, 2011

Anderson winning fitness race

James Anderson appears to winning his battle for fitness ahead of the fourth and final Test against India at The Oval on Thursday, after taking a significant part in Wednesday's practice session. England's captain, Andrew Strauss, said he was "very optimistic" that Anderson would be available for selection, but said that a final decision on his right quadriceps strain would be taken on the morning of the game.

Anderson, who tore through India's top order with each of the first four wickets to fall in their second innings at Edgbaston, has 18 wickets in the series to date and has risen to No. 2 in the world rankings. However, he complained of stiffness in his thigh after the Edgbaston match, and the Durham paceman, Graham Onions, was called into the squad as cover.

Given how valuable Anderson has become as their attack leader, England have already demonstrated a desire to treat him cautiously this summer. He missed the second Test against Sri Lanka earlier in the season as a precaution, having sustained a side strain midway through the opening Test of the summer at Cardiff.

This time, however, Strauss seems happier that his star bowler is ready for action. "We are very optimistic he's fit to play," he said. "He had a good bowl today, but like all these things we have to check how he comes up tomorrow morning. It just seems nothing more than a little niggle at this stage.

"We've set a precedent of resting players in the past and I think it's sensible at times to be able to do that, because of the hectic nature of the international schedule and you don't want bowlers breaking down for important series," he added. "But we will only be resting players if we're absolutely sure they need a rest."

Anderson's team-mate, Graeme Swann, took a similarly optimistic view when the squad reconvened for practice on Tuesday morning. "I honestly didn't know he was injured until he told me this morning that he's not going to play," said Swann. "I'm sure once he gets running around, he'll want to play because I know how well he's bowling at the minute. I know Jimmy. When he's doing well, he's hungry for the ball and he just wants to keep going. It's when he's not doing so well, he's more than happy for a week off."

If Anderson is not passed fit, England will have to choose between Onions and Steven Finn, after Chris Tremlett was once again ruled out by the back injury he sustained prior to the second Test at Trent Bridge. It was notable that England's bowlers were below-par in the one match that Anderson missed, against Sri Lanka at Lord's, and Strauss admitted that, even with their current fast-bowling resources, he is one player they would rather not do without.

"He's been very much the leader of our attack for the last couple of years and he's been outstanding in that role," said Strauss. "But we've had to deal with Stuart Broad being injured, Chris Tremlett being injured and people have come in and done well and that's always the challenge for you as a side - to make sure you've got the strength in depth to be able to mitigate against any sort of injury. If and when we have to deal with that, we'll deal with it.

"He's very important, not just for the tone he sets but for his relationship with the other bowlers," Strauss added. "But you can't rely on one person. That's one of the things that we've been good at: we've not relied on one or two people to win us a Test match. We've had performances from all 11 and when we're missing a player it's important the guy coming in can fill that role."

"I think [Jimmy] would be a huge loss, like any of the seamers, but we thought that with Tremlett when he couldn't play at Trent Bridge," said Swann. "Up stepped Bressie [Tim Bresnan] and he's been unbelievable in the two games he's played. We have got vast stocks of fast bowlers at the minute. I'm not sure where they've all come from, but it's nice for us they have all arrived at the same time, because you can never have enough big fast bowlers."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo