England’s preparations for the three-match one-day series in the Caribbean have gone to plan in terms of winning both their warm-up games – even if the second of those victories on Monday was by the nerve-jangling margin of two wickets.
However, the knee injury sustained by Jake Ball against a West Indies Board President’s XI has given the tourists a significant headache in terms of who they will call up as a replacement.
Chris Jordan, a key part of England’s T20 team, Sam Curran, the hugely-gifted Surrey teenager, or Stuart Broad, an old hand who has stated his desire to revive his one-day international career, are three likely options.
Who England go for, if indeed a replacement is sought, will be highly instructive as to their thinking ahead of a huge summer of white-ball cricket that culminates with the Champions Trophy on home soil.
Ball pulled up in the sixth over of this second tour match at Warner Park.
An initial diagnosis of a “niggle” soon became more serious. The 25-year-old Nottinghamshire fast bowler has, say England, pain at the back and on the side of his right knee. It’s a complaint known as Patellofemoral pain syndrome – commonly called ‘runner’s knee’.
He will have a scan soon but given the brevity of this tour – it ends in just 10 days’ time – he is likely to miss all three ODIs against West Indies, the first of which takes place in Antigua on Friday.
That means England, who won this second warm-up after chasing down 234 with seven balls to spare thanks to an unbeaten 47 from Chris Woakes, are likely to have some thinking to do before deciding on who will replace Ball.
David Willey, Mark Wood and Reece Topley are all unavailable through injury. Willey, recovering from shoulder surgery, was replaced in the initial squad for this tour by Steven Finn. Wood is scheduled to return from a third major ankle injury during next month’s North v South game in Abu Dhabi, while Topley’s career has been curtailed by a persistent back injury.
All three would be potential first-choice picks for an England one-day side whose Achilles heel continues to be a weak bowling attack.
There are then a reduced number of options to replace Ball, whose progress since his ODI debut against Bangladesh in Dhaka last October has been encouraging.
The safe option would be Jordan, who is match-sharp having recently played in the Pakistan Super League in the United Arab Emirates.
Curiously, though, he seems to be a player England are now only considering for T20 cricket.
Jordan’s death bowling and superb fielding are key components of England’s strategy in the shortest format.
But he appears not so essential in 50-over cricket.
Initially overlooked for this tour, Jordan also missed out to Finn when it came to replacing Willey. Even more damning was England’s decision to allow the 28-year-old to play the entire Indian Premier League. All those being considered for the Champions Trophy have been told to return to the UK in time for a training camp in Spain on May 14.
Might England now reconsider their stance on the Barbados-born bowler?
If not, then the younger of the Curran brothers, currently in Sri Lanka with England Lions, would be a bold alternative.
It is thought England were considering Curran anyway for the two home ODIs against Ireland in early May given Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes will still be on IPL duty then.
Curran has done well with the Lions this winter and his all-round abilities – he averaged 39.33 in the County Championship for Surrey last summer – make him an appealing option.
This tour would be a big step up for a player who turns 19 in June. Yet his maturity on and off the field has been one of the main things that has impressed those at Surrey and the Lions.
If England feel it is too early for Curran then they could go back to Broad, who has played just a single ODI since the 2015 World Cup.
That came against South Africa in Johannesburg last winter. He went wicketless in a match England lost but he at least offered economy, going at fewer than four runs an over.
Broad stated last summer how determined he was to force his way back into the one-day reckoning ahead of the Champions Trophy and 2019 World Cup. That’s why he played for Hobart Hurricanes in this year’s Big Bash. He might yet get an opportunity.
Liam Plunkett and Ben Stokes were the pick of England’s bowlers in this second tour match, both taking three wickets as the West Indies Board XI were dismissed for 233 in 48 overs.
Captain Jahmar Hamilton top-scored for the hosts with 73 but it was the huge figure of 24-year-old Rahkeem Cornwall, the 6ft 7in, 22-stone man mountain striking 59 from 61 balls that really grabbed the attention.
Cornwall’s off-spin also picked up the wicket of Moeen Ali for two as England made heavy weather of their chase.
They lost Sam Billings for two early on, the Kent batsman’s second failure after he scored 14 in the first tour match last Saturday meaning he might now be overlooked for the first ODI.
But it was the collapse from 128 for one midway through the innings to 177 for seven that almost saw them stumble to a shock defeat.
Jason Roy missed this game as a precaution to avoid aggravating the bruised palm on his right hand and he could now be joined at the top of the order on Friday by Jonny Bairstow, whose 86 as a makeshift opener proved crucial and might see him picked ahead of Billings on Friday.
There’s an opening vacancy right now because of the broken right hand sustained by Alex Hales in India last month. But he will join England in Antigua on Tuesday to continue his rehab and is expected to be officially be added to the squad in the coming days.