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Helm 'fit for duty' as Ashes injury list grows

Tom Helm bowls for England Lions Getty Images

Tom Helm can claim to have been involved in a winning Ashes series - but only in the middle of the Barmy Army fan club.

Any experience is useful when you look around at England's gathering injury crisis and realise to your surprise that you might be one injury away from an Ashes call up.

Seven years ago, Helm was on a supporters' tour, singing songs about Andrew Strauss to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B" as England took the series 3-1.

Fortunately, considering the song was about the man who is now the most powerful figure in English cricket, the lyrics were tasteful.

Helm, the 23-year-old Middlesex seamer, is a veteran of only 17 first-class matches, but if Jake Ball's ankle trouble proves terminal or disaster strikes elsewhere, England's Ashes pace-bowling shortage will rival the time that supermarkets couldn't find a decent iceberg lettuce for love or money because of freak weather in Spain.

The cover will soon be in place as England Lions fly out to Australia on Tuesday before two weeks of red-ball practice in Brisbane and another fortnight, this time with the white ball, in Perth.

"I would be lying if I said the thought hadn't crossed my mind," Helm said as he took a break from Lions preparations at Loughborough. "But my hopes aren't particularly high for that as there are a lot of guys in the queue.

"I am not saying never. I don't think I am miles off. There is Liam Plunkett, there is Mark Wood, and a handful of other guys there or thereabouts. But with the relatively inexperienced squad they have already got out there I would probably add to that inexperience.

"Personally, I don't think it's too soon. I think if I did get the call I would be ready to go but I am not naively thinking I am next in line."

The problem with Helm's diagnosis is that Plunkett is at the Bangladesh Premier League with Sylhet Sixers and, as far as is known, is not excitedly waiting for his phone to ring.

And Wood, potentially destructive, is yet to bowl off his full run at Loughborough as he tries to fight back from his latest injury woes and England have no intention of risking him in a Test until they are absolutely convinced of his resilience. Nobody, not even Wood, can be confident that day will ever come.

If Helm wins an Ashes call up he can rest assured that Australia will dub him as the latest "no-name". But Kevin Shine, the ECB's lead fast bowling coach, is just one good judge who is impressed by the insistent line he bowls and the bounce he gains from a slender 6ft 4in frame would suit Australian pitches.

"I didn't have a bad red-ball season but to be brutally honest I was over the moon to get out the end without being in a cast of some sort"

Tom Helm

Perhaps his mum, Jacqui, knows something. The Helm family follows his career avidly. Helm raised an eyebrow: "My mum has been pestering me all week. I have told her to calm down. Naturally she's got very excited but she's been like that since I was 14."

Two of his Middlesex colleagues have already had a demoralising Ashes experience before the Brisbane Test even arrives. Toby Roland-Jones was a certain pick until a back stress fracture ruled him out shortly before the squad was announced and Steve Finn - an emergency stand in after Ben Stokes' dead-of-night pugilism - tore knee cartilage while batting in the nets in Perth.

Even Helm has been taking it easy after a minor hamstring injury disrupted his Championship season. No wonder. His own career has also been plagued by injury, to the extent that he completed an England Lions one-day tour of Sri Lanka earlier this year by saying he was just grateful he had got through in one piece.

"I played a four-day game against Warwickshire, then we went straight to Bristol to play a Twenty20 on the Friday and I just felt my hamstring running around the outfield. It didn't ping or anything, it was probably over-use because I was pretty tired. I have had a number of injections and a good rehab plan going.

"I ran in off the full run-up for the first time today since the back end of last season. I had a little hamstring issue. I'm fit."

England would want to see further proof of that.

Helm's 2017 county summer was one of gradual progress, nothing more exciting than that. He played only five of Middlesex's 14 Championship games - selection issues, not injuries - taking 19 wickets at 31.68, and actually progressed faster in Twenty20 where his stats were excellent.

"I didn't have a bad red-ball season but it would have been nice to have done a bit better than I did," he said. "But to be brutally honest it was my first full season and I was over the moon to get out the end without being in a cast of some sort."

Life must have felt simpler seven years ago as he joined in the Ashes sing-songs:

"We'll take the urn home
We'll take the urn home
With Strauss our captain
We'll take the urn home"

He says that, at 15, he never once looked down at the outfield and imagined that he might one day play in the Ashes. But the Barmy Army still selected him for a game against The Fanatics - their Australian counterparts.

Perhaps they knew something England are yet to discover.