England v New Zealand, Group C, St Lucia

Injuries add to tension ahead of vital clash

The Preview by Andrew McGlashan

March 15, 2007

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James Anderson bowled in training but his finger was heavily strapped © Getty Images
Both England and New Zealand know all about being hit by injuries and key players from either side have been struck down in the build-up to their vital World Cup opener in St Lucia. James Anderson has broken a finger, Craig McMillan took a blow on the toe during training and Mark Gillespie has suffered an infection which has travelled to his shoulder.

Gillespie was ruled out a couple of days ago, but McMillan has come through the Kiwis' training session on Thursday and looks set to take his place in the middle order. Anderson, too, took part in England's session but there were some clear grimaces as he held catches. The importance of the match is highlighted by the England management's decision to leave the final decision until shortly before the toss on Friday.

England's planning had been built around the return of Anderson, who missed the latter stages of the CB Series with a back problem, with him earmarked to take the new ball and exploit any swing with the early starts. However, now the management have to decide whether to risk him causing further damage to his finger, or being a liability in the field, especially when Sajid Mahmood and Liam Plunkett showed strong form at the end of the Australian tour.

"I don't think a decision has been made on Jimmy yet," Andrew Flintoff told reporters in St Lucia. "He's broken his finger and I'm not quite sure where he's at. It depends how well he can protect it and it depends how well he can do all the stuff in the nets and how he feels pain-wise - and how he rocks up in the morning."

"He's been dogged by injuries and been really unlucky," added Flintoff. "He's had his back and one thing and another and we saw signs in the winter that he was back to his best. He was swinging the ball at pace, he was taking the new ball and taking a lot of responsibility on his shoulders and coming through so, fingers crossed, he'll be all right."

Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher, along with John Bracewell from the New Zealand camp, watched part of the Kenya-Canada game on Wednesday to see what hints they could collect as to how conditions would play. They will have seen the effect of Kenya's spinners in strangling the scoring rate so the temptation will be for both teams to field two slow men.

However, without anyone of express pace to watch it was difficult to judge the true nature of the surface. The two captains will be weary of being swayed too much by the performances of the two Associates. When England last played in St Lucia they twice failed to defend totals in excess of 280, but the opinion from commentators is that the current surface is not quite so batsman-friendly.

Whatever the pitch, both sides have strong top orders; England bolstered by the return of Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen and New Zealand still holding memories of their massive run chases against Australia last month. New Zealand were hurt when England pipped them to the CB Series finals and Stephen Fleming said that this game has been on their minds for a while.

"We are smarting from England knocking us out in Australia," said Fleming, "and to get off to a good start in the tournament we have to win this game and win it well. If we don't we can come out with the excuse 'it's not too bad' but we are desperate to win and set the standard for the tournament."

Defeat for either side won't be terminal - although they would then have to beat Kenya and Canada to progress - but the value of the two points taken through against the fellow qualifier is significant. The confidence in both camps is high but there is a feeling one defeat could see that unravelling. It may only be their first match of the tournament, but the long-term prospects of both teams depend heavily on the final outcome.

England (probable) 1 Ed Joyce, 2 Michael Vaughan (capt), 3 Ian Bell, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Andrew Flintoff, 7 Jamie Dalrymple, 8 Paul Nixon (wk), 9 Liam Plunkett, 10 James Anderson, 11 Monty Panesar

New Zealand (probable) 1 Lou Vincent, 2 Stephen Fleming (capt), 3 Ross Taylor, 4 Scott Styris, 5 Peter Fulton, 6 Craig McMillan, 7 Jacob Oram, 8 Brendon McCullum (wk), 9 Daniel Vettori, 10 James Franklin, 11 Shane Bond

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo

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Andrew McGlashan Assistant Editor Andrew arrived at ESPNcricinfo via Manchester and Cape Town, after finding the assistant editor at a weak moment as he watched England's batting collapse in the Newlands Test. Andrew began his cricket writing as a freelance covering Lancashire during 2004 when they were relegated in the County Championship. In fact, they were top of the table when he began reporting on them but things went dramatically downhill. He likes to let people know that he is a supporter of county cricket, a fact his colleagues will testify to and bemoan in equal quantities.
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