England v Australia, 4th Test, Headingley, 1st day August 7, 2009

An alarming day for England

A 5am fire alarm might well have been the highlight of England's day. Having arrived into Leeds hopeful of a series-clinching victory, England were left to lament a dramatic first day in which form, injury and even faulty fire-detection equipment conspired against them.

By far the most immediate concern for England surrounds the fitness of their fast bowlers. James Anderson appeared in significant discomfort after setting off for a sharp single during the hosts' batting innings, stretching and flexing his right leg for the remainder of his brief tenure at the crease. He would later bowl without the menace of his second day spell at Edgbaston, and left the field on several occasions to receive treatment.

Anderson's already astronomical importance to the England attack escalated further prior to play upon confirmation that Andrew Flintoff would play no part in the fourth Test. Flintoff looked severely restricted by his injured right knee during Thursday's training session, and was eventually replaced by Steve Harmison - a move that stabilised England's bowling unit, but substantially eroded the depth of their batting line-up.

According to an ECB release, Flintoff remains eager to play in the fifth Test at The Oval from August 20, but will not receive anymore pain-killing injections to assist him. There remains the possibility that the recently-concluded Test match at Edgbaston was Flintoff's last, but with almost a fortnight to rest, England are optimistic their enigmatic all-rounder will be afforded a final hurrah in south London.

Flintoff's withdrawal was not England's only drama prior to play. Matt Prior was struck down with back spasms while playing football in the warm-ups and was immediately taken from the field for treatment. England requested Australia that the coin toss be delayed for ten minutes while medical staff decided whether a replacement wicketkeeper was required. In the end, Prior was given the all-clear and, while appearing stiff at the crease, still managed to post an innings-high total of 37 not out.

"I have been on so many drugs today that I don't think I'll remember much of (the innings) tomorrow," Prior said. "It was really touch and go ... and I have to thank the Australians. That extra ten minutes was huge in allowing me to have the injection and receive treatment from the physio.

"I knew that if I didn't play that I'd be right as rain toimorrow and absolutely gutted that I didn't go through a bit of stress today. It's stiff. When you have a back spasm all the muscles are seizing up and the joints can tighten up. Ultimately your body is telling you to stop moving. You've got to try and get it going again, you've got to try and move it. Obviously I've had a lot of physio, a lot of massage, the normal anti-inflammatories and pain-killers. And I had an injection in my butt this morning."

The hosts' mood was tested early on Friday when players and support staff were evacuated from the Radisson SAS Hotel at around 4.50am due to a fire alarm. All were forced to stand in the rain for 20 minutes while fire crews investigated the source of the alarm.

"It's not ideal," Prior said. "I think anyone would be slightly miffed at 5am standing in the rain with no shoes on. It's not an excuse. All it was was a few grumpy people moaning they've been woken up at five."

Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo