Tim Bresnan’s absence from the forthcoming Test series against Pakistan is a bitter blow for England –- just when it seemed their preparation was going to plan in the United Arab Emirates.
No sooner had Andrew Strauss’s tourists completed a hard-working three-wicket win over an ICC Combined XI yesterday than the captain was having to break the news that first-choice seam bowler Bresnan is flying home.
Yorkshire’s Bresnan was ruled out of the opening three-day fixture at the GCA ground, having felt discomfort in the elbow of his bowling arm after surgery on the joint at the end of November.
But the discomfort turned into outright pain, despite three days of rest, as he tested the injury with a tentative bowl on the square before start of play yesterday morning.
Strauss spoke of his and Bresnan’s surprise that the recovery from a minor operation had stalled, and therefore ruled him out of the Test leg of an eight-week tour.
The Yorkshireman was naturally disappointed, but did not seem quite so shocked by the turn of events.
“I’m obviously gutted not to have an opportunity to play in the Test series but I knew that looking at my rehabilitation programme, it was always going to be touch-and-go to get me ready for the series,” he said.
“I want to wish the squad all the very best, and the priority for me now is to get myself ready for the one-day series in February.”
While Bresnan is being booked on a flight home, England must ponder how best to make up for his tireless bowling and handy batting down the order.
Those decisions will fall to coach Andy Flower and Strauss, whose options as back-up to new-ball pair James Anderson and Stuart Broad are Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett and Graham Onions.
Durham bowler Onions had accompanied England as cover until the end of the first Test, which will start on January 17, and has simply been added to the squad in Bresnan’s place.
All of the above are plausible bowling replacements for Bresnan, but none will bolster the tail as he has done in a 10-Test career which has known only victories for No 1-ranked England.
“He definitely is a loss,” said Strauss. “He’s played a very full part in our victories over the last 12 months, both with the bat and the ball.
“We are all gutted for him, because it’s come from left-field and surprised him and us to a certain extent.”
It is hardly panic stations for England yet, though.
“I think we have strong bowling resources, so I think we have adequate cover for him,” added the captain.
“At the moment there is a degree of sadness for him personally that he is boarding that flight.”
Strauss echoed Bresnan’s optimism that he may yet be back in time for four one-day internationals and three Twenty20s, starting on February 13.
He said: “I think generally Bresnan’s operation has been successful, but you can never be 100 per cent sure how people are going to react.
“There is something that is still painful there, and it is up to him to get that sorted out properly now, to have the rest and make sure he’s back for the ODI series.
“He’s had scans and injections but it hasn’t settled down yet. Our medical staff don’t think it’s going to be a particularly long-term problem.”
Also in the wars for England at present, to varying degrees, are Tremlett, Graeme Swann and Matt Prior.
Tremlett was unavailable against the Combined XI because of a sore eye and is to see a doctor. Wicketkeeper Prior will be fit for England’s next match against a Pakistan Cricket Board team tomorrow, despite a bruised finger, while off-spinner Swann, who sat out most of yesterday’s play with a tight upper-leg muscle, is to have a precautionary scan but is expected to be fit, if required, for the final warm-up fixture.
As for the outcome yesterday of a match in which England declared 96 runs behind on first innings, and successfully chased 261 with almost nine of a minimum 69 overs to spare – thanks largely to Strauss’s 78 – the winning captain said: “We’re delighted with how we came through and won the game, having been nearly 100 behind after the first innings.
“I thought there were some good performances in our side - Anderson and Broad, backed up by Finn – and the ICC XI played really well.
“Our batting in the first innings should have been better.
“We have to get in the right mindset to occupy the crease for long periods.
“There is plenty left to work on – we are not going to pretend it was perfect by any means – but we can raise it a level against the PCB.”
England kept their cool to complete an awkward run chase and prevail by three wickets.
Strauss made good on his intent with a fluent 78 at the top of the order as England made a fine start to their pursuit of 261 to win after the Combined XI had declared on 164-9 in the morning.
Strauss and Alastair Cook took advantage of the absence of injured strike bowler Hamid Hassan in an opening stand of 63 in less than 12 overs but from 133-1, England slipped to 199-6 and the outcome was in the balance.
But the seventh-wicket pair of Steve Davies and Stuart Broad were able to settle the match in a stand of 61, even though Broad holed out with the scores level.
Earlier, Mohammad Shahzad’s second 50 of the match had frustrated England.
Broad (3-22) struck in the fifth over of the day, to take his match haul to seven wickets, when Nabi mispulled to mid-off.
But Shahzad again looked in control, bringing up his 76-ball half-century with his ninth four, in an over from Anderson which cost 16 runs, and going on to 74.