|Player:||MJ Hoggard, A Flintoff|
|Event:||Pakistan in British Isles 2006|
DateLine: 12th July 2006
Matthew Hoggard is set to be given until the morning of the match to prove his fitness for the first Test against Pakistan here at Lord's and bolster what will otherwise be an inexperienced attack.
The swing specialist, ever-present in England's last 32 Tests, sustained a bizarre injury to his right, bowling, hand when it was trodden on by Yorkshire colleague Tim Bresnan while the pair were warming-up on Saturday during the A team's draw against Pakistan at Canterbury.
Hoggard, who had stitches inserted into his hand, bowled with a cricket ball during practice at Lord's on Wednesday, where the first Test of a four-match series starts Thursday, but afterwards England stand-in captain Andrew Strauss said it was too early to say if the 29-year-old seamer would be fit in time.
"He did some useful work in the nets today and every hour the hand is getting better. But we are going to give him as long as possible to prove his fitness," Strauss told reporters after practice.
And Strauss, leading a side without Ashes-winning pacemen Andrew Flintoff (ankle) and Simon Jones (knee), as well as reserve quick James Anderson (back), said Hoggard would have to do more than prove his bowling fitness.
"Fielding is important. I don't think you can go into a game with a guy who is unable to field."
Opening batsman Strauss, who will captain England in a Test for the first time when the Middlesex left-hander leads the side out at his Lord's home ground, was in no doubt about Hoggard's value to an attack which, in the Yorkshireman's absence, will be led by Stephen Harmison - England's quickest bowler but not always its most reliable.
"We all know Hoggy's done a very good job for the England team over the last 24 months and, certainly since the Ashes, he's probably been the pick of our bowlers.
"It's very important we do get him on the pitch but if he doesn't make it through it gives an opportunity to someone else," added Strauss of a squad where Jon Lewis and Sajid Mahmood would appear to be vying for a spot alongside Harmison, Liam Plunkett and left-arm spinner Monty Panesar in a four-man attack.
Strauss is captaining the team because Flintoff - the man England want to lead them in Australia for the defence of the Ashes later this year after Michael Vaughan was ruled out with a knee injury - has still to regain full fitness although the selectors hope to have him back in time for the July 27 second Test at the all-rounder's Old Trafford home ground.
England haven't won a Test series since the Ashes - losing 2-0 in Pakistan before drawing away to India and at home to Sri Lanka.
Under Strauss's leadership an injury-hit side then went down to a 5-0 one-day series thrashing by Sri Lanka concluded earlier this month.
But he was adamant that defeat had not host cost him a chance of captaining England on a full-time basis.
"The selectors have shown a lot of consistency. Fred (Flintoff) obviously captained the side very well in India and did a good job against Sri Lanka.
"I've said all long I'm very happy to do the job if other people feel I'm the right man to do it. At this stage they feel Fred is the man to do it and I fully support him. He's going to need and deserve the support of the senior players around him. There's no leadership contest or anything like that."
Panesar, who perfomed well in India, could be targeted by a Pakistan batting line-up aiming to ensure he does not give the quicks a rest.
But Strauss said: "If he (Panesar) can go at two an over in India against their batsmen, it proves he's pretty tricky to get away. So if people do go after him, he's got more chance of taking wickets."
Not that Strauss was under-estimating the threat posed by Pakistan. "The thing about the winter was their unpredictability. They can turn a game round in one session and you can't afford to relax against them."
(Article: Copyright © 2006 AFP)
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