Reports coming out of the England camp in South Africa indicate that the country’s highest ever wicket-taker and leader of the attack, James Anderson, is struggling to be fit for the Boxing Day Test against South Africa after he sustained a calf injury.
Anderson has bowled just five overs on the tour thus far, all of them coming against a South African Invitation XI – a match that did not even have first-class status so England could field more than eleven players in order for them to get some time out in the middle.
The ‘Burnley Express’ didn’t feature at all in England’s convincing win against a South Africa A side that featured three players with Test caps (Dane Vilas, Quinton de Kock and Marchant de Lange) as well as Rilee Rossouw who finds himself in contention to line up against England again on the 26th after being included in the test squad.
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So how much will England miss Anderson?
Since March 2008, England have played seven Tests without their opening swing bowler.
They have won three of the seven, two against Bangladesh in 2010 and the Fourth Ashes Test Match earlier this year, when Stuart Broad produced the performance of his life to rip through the Aussie batting order, claiming career-best figures of 8-15.
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Anderson is clearly a key figure in the success England have achieved. He is also a fantastic fielder and a leader on the pitch.
Now Ian Bell has been dropped, Anderson is the second most experienced man on the tour in terms of appearances – with 110 to date.
In the absence of Anderson, England captain Alastair Cook has opted to throw the new ball to uncapped left-arm quick Mark Footitt in the tour matches so far.
The former Derbyshire bowler, who recently signed a deal with newly promoted Surrey, has had mixed results on tour so far - picking up four wickets but being hit for more than four runs per over in two out of the three innings he has bowled more than a solitary over.
However, Footitt has been knocking down the door for some time now. He has taken 158 first-class wickets in the last two seasons which have seen him top the charts in 2014 and finish second in this year's campaign.
Footitt’s ability to swing the ball at pace from a different angle to their right-arm heavy attack is arguably something England have missed in recent years.
To highlight the point further, no left-armer has taken 100 wickets or more in Test matches for England, something that India, Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Pakistan, the West Indies and South Africa have all achieved.
In fact, no left-arm seamer has sent down a delivery wearing the Three Lions during a Test since Ryan Sidebottom did so in his final appearance at the beginning of 2010.
Had Durham’s Mark Wood - impressive on the docile pitches in the UAE in the recent, unsuccessful series against Pakistan - not required surgery on a long-term ankle problem, Footitt may have found himself carrying the drinks in the same way Liam Plunkett did last month.
Steven Finn finding form on his return from injury, securing impressive match figures of 6-74 against South Africa A could also contribute to Footitt’s wait for his debut, especially with considering Chris Woakes’ return to the setup.
However, it now looks increasingly likely that the pair will line up together alongside Stuart Broad, all-rounder Ben Stokes and spinner Moeen Ali to form the attack that will attempt to skittle out a South Africa side that was seriously short of runs in their series loss against India.