England’s battle plans were thrown into disarray, before the post-Kevin Pietersen era has even started, when Ian Bell edged a ball into his face in practice yesterday.
Bell, inked in to replace Pietersen at the top of the order following the South Africa-born batsman’s shock limited-overs retirement, was just about the last person England needed to suffer an injury scare on the eve of the NatWest Series against West Indies.
That is what happened in the Rose Bowl indoor nets yesterday morning, though, where an attempted pull-shot went awry and resulted in a deep gash to his chin and a dash to hospital for stitches and to check whether his jaw might be broken.
The England and Wales Cricket Board have confirmed that Bell has suffered a possible non-displaced fracture to his jaw, but he has not been ruled out of the match.
Bell had to have 10 stitches in the wound, but the Warwickshire man will not necessarly miss today’s ODI.
When Bell returned to the ground, a collective sense of relief appeared to accompany him.
Captain Alastair Cook addressed the press during the hours of peak anxiety which immediately followed Bell’s mishap against routine throw-downs from Richard Halsall.
“Ian Bell got hit in the nets today and has got a gash on his chin,” said the man who will now discover for definite only this morning who his latest England opening partner will be.
“He’s gone off for an X-ray, but we don’t know what the situation is yet.
“It is a concern, because he didn’t look in a good way when he walked off.
“There was quite a lot of blood, and he has had stitches.”
England were forced to consider their contingency plans, and it seems elevation for Cook’s Essex team-mate Ravi Bopara was the likely preferred option.
“We will have to play it by ear,” said Cook.
“Ian top-edged a pull into his chin.
“If he’s unfit then, of course, we’d have to change – and that’s why you’ve got a squad.
“Emergencies can come up in any game.
“I remember Matt Prior getting hurt on the morning of the Test at Headingley in 2009. You have to have a squad for those circumstances.
“We’re just waiting to see what we’ll do if Belly is ruled out.”
By late afternoon, the impression was that panic stations were being scaled down if not entirely de-rigged.
Cook’s opposite number Darren Sammy had mixed feelings about Bell’s friendly-fire injury.
“I don’t think any cricketer wants to see anybody get injured, or would take pleasure in that happening to an opposition player,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate for him. But we haven’t got to focus on what happens to the opposition; we just have to focus on what we need to do to win the one-day series, go out there and put good runs on the board and then defend it.”
The West Indies’ gameplan is a simple one, then, with their regiment of big hitters and multiple bowling options.
For England, a voyage of discovery is about to begin as they work out how best to deploy those who have outlived Pietersen.
“Clearly Kevin is a world-class player,” said Cook.
“He’s scored a lot of runs and has played some match-winning innings for England.
“But we have won games before without Kevin Pietersen, against Pakistan in 2010 and against India – and it is time to move on now.
“Clearly when he’s in the form he is now he’ll be missed – but we’ll move on as a team.
“It gives an opportunity to someone else to make those middle overs theirs.”
Pietersen’s retirement shocked the world of cricket, including his ODI captain – who was not part of the reportedly vexed negotiations which preceded it.
“It came as a surprise, because he was playing so well, but when he makes a decision he makes a decision.
Clearly those discussions have gone on with the ECB and Andy Flower – and that’s probably where those discussions should have been.
“Yes it’s disappointing, but we move on and replace him.”
In Bell, who made his only ODI hundred at this ground in 108 matches to date, Cook is confident the right man will be in situ against the new ball – in the medium if not yet for certain the immediate term.
“I think the best players can adapt to all conditions, and we’ve all seen how good Belly is in Test cricket,” he said.
“In one-day cricket, he’ll be the first to admit he hasn’t quite reached the heights he would have liked.
“But I don’t see any reason why he can’t thrive in one-day cricket now.”