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September 4, 2009
Joe Denly has been ruled out of Sunday's second ODI against Australia, but could yet play a part at a later stage of the seven-match series, after scans on his injured left knee revealed a small sprain but "no major damage", following his collision with Owais Shah during a practice-session football match on the Oval outfield on Thursday morning.
" [He] will continue to receive treatment over the next 48 hours before undergoing a further assessment early next week which will determine a recovery timescale," said an ECB statement.
The timing and nature of the injury was especially embarrassing for the England camp, coming so soon after the abandonment of the second Twenty20 international at Old Trafford on Tuesday, which was called off because of fears for player safety. Denly scored 67 from 111 balls in tough conditions on his ODI debut against Ireland last Thursday, and though he followed up with a golden duck in the first abandoned Twenty20 fixture at Old Trafford, he had been highly likely to retain his place for Friday's match, despite the return of Strauss from a post-Ashes break.
"When a new guy comes into the squad, you want to have a look and see what he's capable of, and we are very excited at having Joe in the squad," Andrew Strauss said. "He looks like he's got the capabilities of playing all the shots you need at the top of the order. Hopefully he'll play a role at some stage of the series."
The injury was sustained as Denly toppled forwards following a collision with Shah. His left leg caught in the turf as he lost balance, and after rolling on impact he took several moments before attempting to flex his knee. He was assessed on the ground for 15 minutes by the physio Kirk Russell, and though he was initially able to leave the field unaided, he had to be helped up the steep flight of steps to the dressing rooms by Russell and the team security advisor Reg Dickason.
Denly's injury is not the first time an England player has been struck down while playing football in the warm-ups. James Anderson twisted his ankle during an end-of-day warm-down during the Wellington Test in March 2008, shortly after taking five wickets; Ian Bell turned his right ankle in the indoor nets ahead of this summer's third Test at Edgbaston, while Matt Prior suffered back spasms on the morning of the Headingley Test, and played with the assistance of pain-killing injections.
"We had a chat about it after Headingley," said Strauss. "Up until now we haven't had an instance of anyone missing any cricket through a football-related injury, but it looks like we're going to this time. The reality with Matt Prior is that it was nothing to do with football, he was just running and twisted awkwardly. But it's very frustrating, and it's something we've got to look at. Maybe we need to learn the lessons from that."
Strauss suggested that Shah's tackle had been "clumsy", and hinted that the football warm-up would now have to be reviewed. "The reason we play football is that we warm up 200 days a year, the players enjoy it and it's a good way to get people going at a time in the morning when a lot of the time you're stiff and sore and tired.
"We're all competitive human beings, it's probably why we've got to this level and that's why it's good to have competition, but it's slightly dangerous because things can go a bit far. You'd like to think the players would be sensible enough in the warm-up not to take it too far but I think they did today. We have a no-tackling rule and I'm not sure if it was heeded today."
Australia's captain, Michael Clarke, was sympathetic to Denly's plight, and recognised the need to keep the humdrum practice sessions interesting. "It's a hard one," he said. "You do so many warm-ups as players so you don't like to do the same things every day. You like a bit of fun, and the English guys love their football so they play a lot of that. But cricket is first and foremost, and that is your priority. Stuart Karppinen is our trainer and he makes clear to us that there's a time and place for a bit of fun but when were close to a game it's all cricket.
"Football is not the biggest sport for the guys in our team, they love their Aussie rules and rugby league, so we occasionally get a game of touch football, but there's always a footy that the guys like to have a kick around. It's just timing. It's unfortunate when injuries happen like this, but the trainers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They want to let the boys enjoy themselves but they also know that cricket is the No.1 priority."
No replacement has been named, but if cover is eventually required Jonathan Trott, who scored a century on this ground in the Ashes decider last month, is the obvious player to join the 14-man squad.
Ironically, Denly was a promising footballer as a teenager and once had a trial with Charlton Athletic. However, he turned to cricket after suffering a broken arm after being pushed off the ball while playing for Whitstable Under-18s. "I used to get shoved about a bit," he said in an interview in the official match programme, "and after that I decided enough was enough."
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Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge
Plays of the day from the tri-series match between Zimbabwe and South Africa
Would he have fared better than the incumbent middle-order batsmen, Root and Ballance?