Trevor Bayliss has backed Stuart Broad to lead the England attack in style should James Anderson fail to make the Boxing Day Test against South Africa.
Anderson, 33, remains a major doubt for the series opener at Kingsmead after suffering tightness in his right calf for more than a week.
England are awaiting the results of a scan taken on Tuesday and have two more training sessions – Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – to assess Anderson’s match fitness, with contingencies already in place.
Chris Woakes is favourite to replace Anderson, having nudged ahead of Mark Footitt and Chris Jordan, with Broad ready to inherit Anderson’s seniority in the field.
The last time Broad was bumped up the pecking order because of an injury to Anderson, at Trent Bridge in August, he took career-best figures of 8-15 to humiliate Australia and secure the Ashes. As omens go, it is a reassuring one.
“From Stuart’s point of view we’ve got an obvious replacement as leader of the attack there and I’m sure he would show that he could handle that as he did against Australia in the fourth Test,” said Bayliss.
“It’s always a concern if your leading bowler or leading batter misses a game, but the last time Jimmy missed one we did pretty well, so you never know. We’ve got a good squad of bowlers on this tour and if it gets to that we’ve got plenty of cover.”
England’s concern over Anderson, who has sent down just five competitive overs on the trip, mirrors South Africa’s over Dale Steyn.
The latter has been passed fit after a groin injury that plagued him in India, and Bayliss hopes to see both sides’ premier pace bowler on show.
Steyn and Anderson are the only active seam bowlers to have passed 400 Test wickets.
This winter could be the last opportunity to see the pair face off.
“You want the best players to be playing in all the teams,” said Bayliss.
“Unfortunately it’s the nature of the sport that you do get niggles every now and then and have to miss some games, but they’re two very fine bowlers.”
It seems increasingly likely that Anderson will have to sit out at least one of the first two Tests.
There are only two days between them, one of which is partially taken travelling from Durban to Cape Town.
That is a brisk turnaround for any player, not least a veteran seamer under an injury cloud, and a decision may already have been made that the possibility of 10 days cricket out of 12 is an unrealistic one for Anderson.
The positive news for England is that the remainder of their team appears in good order.
Each of the their top six scored at least a half-century across the two warm-up matches, four went on to three figures and there were welcome wickets for Steven Finn and Moeen Ali against South Africa A.
The Proteas are ranked No 1 in the world, but their confidence was shaken during a 3-0 defeat in India and several of their batsmen are out of form.
Bayliss is not getting carried away about a rare away success in these climes, though, and offered a measured view on the series.
“It’s a bit hard to say (they are vulnerable)...they’re still the No 1 team and they’re playing at home, so I’m not going to make any predictions there,” he said.
“We just want to concentrate on us playing some good cricket.
“We’re happy with our preparation.”