CAPTAIN Alastair Cook admits recalling James Anderson for the second Test against South Africa will be a gamble for England.
Anderson missed England’s handsome win in Durban with a calf strain, but is confident he is fit to line up at Newlands today.
Yesterday saw him take full part in a pre-match net session, bowling a lengthy spell with additional support on his right calf and he also batted with no obvious signs of discomfort.
The 33-year-old has bowled just five competitive overs since arriving in the country and, while that would ordinarily be considered insufficient build-up, England believe their record wicket-taker knows the capabilities of his body.
South Africa saw their own spearhead Dale Steyn break down in the first Test on his comeback from injury and although Cook is wary of repeating that mistake, the temptation to unleash Anderson, at the expense of Chris Woakes, remains strong.
“It’s fair to say that the XI who played in Durban did a pretty good job, but when you’ve got Jimmy and his wickets in the background, if he’s fit to go, then he’ll play,” said Cook.
“It’s an interesting call because of how many overs he’s bowled so far on this tour – not a huge amount – and the conditions will be a tough test for all of us. We’ll have a good chat in the changing room and see how he feels.
“We have to be really careful with heart and head.
“He’s desperate to play, but we just have to make sure it’s the right decision for him.
“If he’s fit and ready and confident, then he’ll be opening the bowling, but we don’t want to hinder ourselves and have an injury caused that we could have prevented.
“Obviously there will be a bit of a risk about it.”
England are in buoyant mood after their efforts in Durban and will be hoping the brief two-day turnaround plays into their hands.
South Africa looked short on form and confidence last time out, but if they had to choose a venue to provide home comfort, it would be Newlands.
They have lost just once in their last 13 outings at the picturesque ground, and England have not won here since 1957.
But Cook does not want to let the advantage slip.
England won back-to-back Tests only once last year, when they sealed the Ashes in consecutive weeks at Nottingham and Birmingham. Changing that kind of inconsistency represents something of a new year resolution.
“The word consistency has already come up ... 2015 was a year where we were up and down a lot,” said Cook.
“I certainly haven’t got to the bottom of why we’ve been so inconsistent as a side over the last 10 months or so.
“It was great to finish the year with a really relentless performance from pretty much ball one ... can we do it again?
“Can we have an Edgbaston, Trent Bridge fortnight and can we do that in Durban and Cape Town?
“I’ve been reading that this ground is their real strong point, that they have a great record here.
“It would be great if we could change that.”
Cook is not impressed with a mere 48-hour break between matches, particularly having bowled last in Durban before travelling west.
But he insists he will not be crying foul if plans go awry this week.
“A two-day turnaround isn’t great for the players, if we’re being brutally honest,” he said.
“Hopefully, this is just a one-off and people see sense that you need a couple more days between Tests. But we got our head round the schedule, we’ve known about it and we certainly won’t be using that if we don’t play well.”
South Africa, meanwhile, have sent an SOS to former captain Graeme Smith ahead of the game, with defeat in Durban the latest in a string of disappointing performances and results for the world’s No 1 side.
Working as a commentator for BBC’s Test Match Special, Smith raised eyebrows with his assessment of the home side, suggesting he sensed “a few rumblings in the South Africa camp” and criticising the “terrible decision” to keep wicket with AB de Villiers.
But he was present at nets in Cape Town yesterday, working alongside the team’s batsmen having been approached by Cricket South Africa. His successor as captain, Hashim Amla, was relaxed about Smith’s recent comments and insisted his experience could be a priceless asset.
“When people criticise the team there is going to be some value in it, so you take it on the chin and move on,” said Amla.
“Wherever there is value to be added you’ve got to take it. Graeme has a lot of value to add and hopefully we will tap into that.”