England prepare to put faith in Harmison
"His back's still sore," said Moores. "It's got better as backs do, but tomorrow's the key day. He's going to have to bowl tomorrow to be available for selection." The likelihood of that happening, however, is slim in the extreme, and worryingly for England, Hoggard is not the only seamer in the wars. Ryan Sidebottom missed training with a stomach complaint, while James Anderson bowled with strapping on the left ankle he injured during the warm-ups.
Both men are still expected to be fit for selection, which leaves a straight choice between the experienced Harmison and the rookie Stuart Broad, who has yet to make his Test debut. From the evidence of their performances at nets, there was only one man showing any relish for the contest. Harmison was listless for long periods of his spell, and spent several minutes between deliveries discussing his action and run-up with Moores and the bowling coach Ottis Gibson. Broad, on the other hand, plucked out Michael Vaughan's middle stump with a seaming delivery, and was lively and eager to impress throughout.
Even so, the indication from the England camp is that they are prepared to trust in the greater knowhow of Harmison, for what has become a must-win match. "We've seen Steve over the last two weeks, not just in the last few net sessions," said Moores. "He's an experienced Test-match cricketer, and in Steve we've got someone who creates bounce, creates pressure, and is someone who Sri Lanka won't like to face."
The final point is the crucial one as far as England's permutations go, because their seam attack at Kandy was lacklustre once the friendly first-day conditions had evaporated. "Our line and length wasn't too bad, but we've got to be a bit more savvy and streetwise," said Moores. In Harmison, England have a cricketer whose reputation for devastating menace precedes him. If he doesn't play in this contest, there seems little point in ever calling on his services again.
Moores, though, gave the impression of a man who was prepared to disregard the evidence before his eyes, and trust Harmison's big-match instincts to kick in on the day. "Whenever you play someone in a Test match, you never quite know what you're going to get," he said. "There's always an element of risk. Steve worked hard during the last Test match, but one of the challenges during Tests is that you bowl by yourself in the middle. He needs time against batters, so netting today was good.
"The real challenge comes when he pulls on an England shirt again and goes out to play for his country," said Moores. "We all know that nets are different. You get fantastic net players who can't translate that in the middle, so we can only take so much from that. You have to take stuff from how the player is around the team - how he's talking, how he's feeling. Steve's doing everything right, both on the fitness and technical side, and if he's the best man for the job, he'll play."
Another omission for Broad would be a tough break for a player who has been waiting patiently for his debut since the start of the English summer, but at the age of 21, there is no question that his chance will come before long. Moores, though, wasn't going to be rushed into giving him that first call-up. "The challenge with Stuart is to know when to release him into Tests," said Moores. "There's no doubt he's pushing very hard. He's playing well and offers some options with the bat as well, and he'll be very much talked about in selection, as will everyone."
Broad's willowy frame is a concern for the team management, however. He has the height to be a fast bowler, but so far lacks the meat on his bones that will make him a durable England prospect. "He's adaptable, he's got a knack of getting wickets, and he's getting stronger all the time," said Moores. "But part of Stuart's thing is getting the physical strength to deliver his skill over a decent length of time, in what are pretty harsh conditions.
"He's earned his right to be in this squad because of how he's performed," said Moores. "He's probably physically ready to bowl three spells a day over five days, but he'd be pushing the limits of it, to be honest. Mentally, for a young bloke, he's very strong and I think he's got a Test match in him, but whether he'd be able to play three on the bounce, I don't know yet."
Both men could yet be called upon if Sidebottom and Anderson fail to recover fully from their respective ailments. England do have previous in that regard, having purged their entire new-ball attack between the first and second Tests in Sri Lanka four years ago, but Moores implied that Hoggard's enforced absence would be sufficient change among the seamers. "I saw enough from the England team that we can still win the series," he said. "If we play to our ability, and put them under pressure. The challenge is to do that, and sustain the pressure over longer periods with bat and ball."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo