Harmison covers injured Flintoff
A knee injury to Andrew Flintoff has prompted England selectors to call the in-form Steve Harmison into an expanded 14-man squad for the second Ashes Test at Lord's. Flintoff complained of right knee soreness and swelling after twisting awkwardly in the field during Australia's first innings. He had a scan on his knee on Monday and was given a cortisone injection to help with the healing process.
News of Flintoff's latest injury will come as a major blow to England, who had hoped their marquee all-rounder would repeat his man-of-the-series exploits from the 2005 Ashes series. He began with a flourish in Cardiff, troubling the Australian batsmen with pace and bounce, but his contributions tapered as the match progressed. He finished with figures of 1-128 from 35 overs, and scored of 37 and 26.
The Cardiff Test was Flintoff's first major assignment since tearing the meniscus in his right knee during an IPL stint with the Chennai Superkings. He had not represented England since the Antigua Test in February, after which he damaged his hip, and is no guarantee to play at .Lord's or Edgbaston against the Australians.
"It's just a bit of a reaction to one of the old knee injuries," said Geoff Miller, England's chairman of selectors. "I don't think it's too bad from what we can make out. It's not disastrous, but we've just got to be very wary of it, just monitor it. We've obviously gone for a selection to cover that. Andrew knows himself how painful it is or whether he will be able to compete. It's a long series. We've got four more games to play, so we've got to take that into consideration.
"In the event of Andrew being unfit, we see Stephen as a like for like replacement in terms of the type of bowler he is and his ability to unsettle the opposition batsmen with pace and bounce. But we will need to consider all our options carefully when we come to determine the make-up of our bowling attack at Lord's and the final decision will depend on our assessment of the pitch and the likely overhead conditions. "
Harmison has taken 33 wickets at 13.03 in five first class matches since June, including six against the Australians in the recent England Lions tour match in Worcester. His dismissals of Phillip Hughes to short, rising deliveries was replicated by Flintoff in Cardiff, who removed the Australian opener after a succession of bouncers.
Should his first-class form hold, Harmison would imbue England with a degree of menace that was lacking in the first Test, during which the hosts managed just six Australian wickets in 181 overs. Harmison, too, will hold fond memories of his last Ashes Test at Lord's, taking 8-97 and striking Ricky Ponting a fearsome blow to the face.
Even if Flintoff is ruled fit, Harmison will still push for a place in the starting XI if, as is expected, England opt against playing two spinners at Lord's. Harmison and his Durham teammate, Graham Onions, could find themselves in a duel for the right to replace Monty Panesar, who lacked penetration on a slow, turning Sophia Gardens surface.
"In the bowling department, Steve's been bowling really well for Durham and he bowled really well in the Lions game, so he comes into give us that option if necessary," Miller said. "We've just watched him perform. We know what his capabilities are, we know how good an international bowler is and he's bowling well at the moment, so consequently he takes that place as cover."
Miller was less than complimentary of England's performance in Cardiff, and implored the team to lift ahead of the crucial Lord's Test. "I would think the feeling in the squad is terrific releif, but we know full well we underplayed, we didn't play to our potential, and that's got to be rectified," he said. "But there's relief that we could show some steel and some backbone and fight through the last day and end up with a draw so we go to Lord's 0-0. It's not rocket science for everybody to see that we came second best, but managed to get a draw out of it. We move on."
Squad: Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Matt Prior (wk), Andrew Flintoff, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Monty Panesar, Graham Onions, Ian Bell, Steve Harmison.
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo