Bell doubtful after blow to jaw
Few people expect Ian Bell to assume Kevin Pietersen's one-day role for England with quite the same flamboyance as his predecessor, but his first audition for the role could hardly have been more disheartening as he took a blow on the chin in net practice which has left him a doubtful starter for the first one-day international against West Indies at West End.
Bell, who was in line to open the batting after Pietersen's premature retirement from England's one-day side, top-edged a pull while facing throw-downs in the indoor nets from the fielding coach, Richard Halsall.
With blood pouring from the wound, and a cleaning-up operation underway in the net, he was taken to hospital where he received ten stitches and underwent X-rays.
The ECB confirmed on Friday evening that he had "a possible non-displaced fracture of the mandibular condyle." In layman's terms, he has been struck on the lower jaw and is unlikely to be eating or chatting too enthusiastically for a while. England planned to delay a decision until the morning of the match, but the prognosis was not encouraging.
When it came to replacing Pietersen, people questioned whether he could walk the walk; now he could not even talk the talk.
Alastair Cook, England's captain in 50-over cricket, had anticipated questions about how they would cope without Pietersen. "We have won one-day games before without him - clearly he'll be missed, but we'll move on as a team," was his stock answer to that.
But to be asked to ponder how England could then best manage without the batsman earmarked to replace Pietersen was a stroke of ill luck he could not have anticipated. Ravi Bopara has ambitions to open but, by his own admission on Thursday, they are not quite as pronounced when the ball is swinging and seaming in England; Craig Kieswetter's technique has been found lacking; and to promote Jonathan Trott from No. 3 might be viewed as even more disruptive. If Bell had the painful jaw, Cook was left to cope with the headache.
'It is a concern because he didn't look in a good way when he walked off," Cook said. "There was quite a lot of blood and he has had stitches. We'll announce the team at the toss like we normally do. We'll just have to play that one by ear. Emergencies can come up in any game. That's why you've got a squad."
Darren Sammy, West Indies' captain, said: "I don't think any cricketer wants to see an opposing player get injured, or will take pleasure in that. It is unfortunate for him. But we have to focus on other things."
The first of three games in the NatWest Series gets underway on Saturday, with West Indies set to welcome back Chris Gayle for his first international appearance in more than a year.
West Indies have not won a one-day series away from home against an international side other than Bangladesh or Zimbabwe since they beat England 2-1 five years ago, under Gayle's captaincy.
For all that, they are in the rare position of being termed favourites by the English media. "I have not heard favourite and West Indies in the same sentence for a long time but it is good that you recognise that," Sammy said. "England in England is always difficult but we believe as a team that we should win the one-day series."
England calculate that the emphasis on West Indies' considerable six-hitting prowess fails to take account of the rule change that sees the use of two new balls. In English conditions, that shifts the onus back to a more traditional approach in the first half of the innings. It is also likely to see them field four fast bowlers, with Tim Bresnan batting at No. 7.
"Clearly we need people at the top of the order with good techniques and with myself and hopefully Belly at the top we can do that," Cook said. "It's about winning games of cricket and we've won the last five series at home. We're a tough team to beat in our conditions."
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo