James Anderson may have lost his fight to be fit for the Boxing Day Test against South Africa but Stuart Broad insists the absence of his new-ball partner is “not a hammer blow” to England’s chances.
Anderson, 33, has been ruled out of the series opener in Durban today with a right calf strain that has lingered since the start of the trip, though England remain hopeful that he could yet feature in the second Test in Cape Town.
Broad will shoulder a greater share of the burden as a result, with Chris Woakes the heavy favourite to be recalled for the first time since August, 2014.
Woakes, who has played four Tests, joined Broad and Steven Finn for a full bowling session in the nets on Christmas Eve, while fellow seam bowlers Chris Jordan and Mark Footitt worked on their outfielding in a separate group.
With 110 caps worth of experience and a national record of 426 wickets Anderson’s unavailability is a considerable setback for England, particularly on a surface where early breakthroughs will be essential.
But Broad, who took career-best figures of 8-15 in an unforgettable Ashes morning at Trent Bridge last time Anderson failed a fitness test, believes the tourists can cope.
“Jimmy’s disappointed but with the strength in depth we’ve got in this group it’s not a hammer blow to us,” said Broad, who showed off his festive side by wearing a Santa hat in his pre-match press conference.
“With Steven Finn coming back and bowling nicely we’ve got good depth to cover his niggle.
“Of course it’s disappointing when you lose the spearhead of your attack but I think it’s just a real slight niggle and the management decided it really wasn’t worth the risk in the first Test.”
Broad suggested Anderson “could have played” if necessary, but with just five overs under his belt on tour and no bowling at all for the three days prior to being ruled out that seems an optimistic interpretation.
Anderson may not be able to affect the game from the middle but his depth of knowledge and bowling brain can still be of use to England at Kingsmead.
“He’s already announced himself as assistant bowling coach to Ottis Gibson,” said a smiling Broad.
“He’s very keen to share his wealth of experience. We haven’t toured here for six years – a long gap – and I don’t know how good his memory is but he will be able to help whoever takes the new ball.
“Jimmy said when he missed a game in the Ashes that you see the game differently from the changing room to the middle, so having that experience to feed back into the group will help.”
Broad will be the senior man on the field though – a role he relishes, and not just because it means he can bowl with the breeze.
“The leader of the attack is just that – it’s about being talkative and communicative with the group and making sure our bowlers adapt to the conditions quicker than their batsmen,” he said.
“You get a choice of ends which is quite nice, too, but it’s all about communication within the bowling unit and over the past few years we’ve all talked about what deliveries work in whatever conditions so it’s my responsibility now to take that into the whole bowling group.
“We’re not sure what to expect out there yet – we’re still a couple of days out from the Test – but we’ll just have to react as quickly as we can.”
South Africa come into the series as the world’s No 1 ranked side despite a sound 3-0 defeat in India in their last series.
England, of course, had their own struggles on slow tracks in the United Arab Emirates against Pakistan and Broad admitted that the vulnerability in both camps could make for a memorable contest – albeit in vastly different conditions.
“As a team, when you have not won for a while you are feeling around and as an England team we’re in no different a position,” he said.
“We didn’t win in the UAE, we’ve not won for four Tests –both teams are so similar it will be a pretty epic series I think.”
Vice-captain Joe Root was absent from training with an upset stomach, but is not thought to be a doubt for the Test.
Even so, fellow Yorkshire batsman Gary Ballance was given a thorough workout in the nets and provides cover for any of the top six slots.
Hashim Amla believes South Africa and England are both seeking a “resurgence” in the forthcoming Test series.
Each of the sides head into the series opener in Durban on the back of sound defeats in their previous outings.
The Proteas were humbled 3-0 on spin-friendly tracks in India, while Pakistan dispatched England 2-0 in their adopted home of the United Arab Emirates.
South Africa are still rated as the No 1 Test side in the world but, notwithstanding Anderson’s injury-enforced absence, the tourists look in good order.
They demolished South Africa A in little more than two days in Pietermaritzburg and will be quietly confident of repeating their famous series win of 2004-05.
“Both teams have come from losing previous tours so I think both teams are looking to start a resurgence again,” the home captain told reporters at Kingsmead.
“The fact that they beat South Africa A, for me, I wouldn’t place too much emphasis on it. We know that Test cricket is the ultimate and you can’t replicate the pressures of Test cricket.
“In international cricket, there is always somebody under pressure so it’s not a new thing that we are suddenly under pressure, it’s just how it is in international cricket.
“Every game has a lot of consequences to it. At the start of this Test series, all it takes is one good batting day to start a resurgence for our Test team. The guys are used to it and are able to handle the pressure.”
Amla is grateful to be calling on his leading bowler Dale Steyn after the latter recovered well from a groin problem which saw him sit out three Tests in India.
But he sympathised with Lancashire’s Anderson.
“Obviously Jimmy Anderson is a big bowler for them, it’s a big blow for England,” he said.
“He’s been one of the better bowlers in the world for a few years.”
South Africa are weighing up whether to pick spinner Dane Piedt, on a pitch that has offered assistance for slow bowlers in the recent past, or unleash a four-man pace attack of Steyn, Morne Morkel, Kyle Abbott and Kagiso Rabada.