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England are on alert due to concerns over the state of the ground in Dharmashala, where they hope to kickstart their World Cup campaign against Bangladesh on Tuesday.
Worries are mounting over the suitability of the picturesque HPCA Stadium, which sits on the edge of the Himalayas, thanks to a loose, sandy outfield that represents a potential safety risk to players.
The venue hosted its first game of the the tournament on Saturday, with Afghanistan’s Mujeeb Ur Rahman fortunate to escape unscathed after his knee jarred in the turf as he slid to prevent a boundary.
Former England batter Jonathan Trott, now head coach of Afghanistan, said after the match that players were “unsure” of their footing and that Mujeeb had been lucky to avoid serious injury.
It is understood Trott has been in touch with friends in the England camp to share his thoughts in more detail and they received a close-up look of their own during a training session on Sunday.
The International Cricket Council’s pitch consultant Andy Atkinson and head of events Chris Tetley were also in attendance, seen in conversation with the head groundsman as they assessed conditions.
An ICC spokesperson told the PA news agency: “The process for assessing the condition of the pitch and outfield lies with the match officials under the ICC pitch and outfield monitoring process and the outfield at Dharamshala was rated as average after the Afghanistan v Bangladesh match.
“Additionally, the ICC independent pitch consultant has taken a look at the outfield today and is comfortable with the conditions as is Javagal Srinath, the match referee for the next game.”
There are three ratings below the ‘average’ grade the ground received: below average, poor and unfit.
Touch wood we don’t have any major incidents
Jonny Bairstow made it clear England were aware of the situation and suggested they may need to exert some caution in the field to avoid trouble.
“There’s been a lot of chat about it hasn’t there? Touch wood we don’t have any major incidents,” he said.
“The last thing you want is two guys going off with knee injuries or something. It can contribute to shoulders as well, if you’re diving and your elbows get stuck in the ground. But it’s like the pitch being different one venue to another, you’ve just got to adapt to it.
“When you’re out there fielding with spikes on it will naturally become clear what you can and can’t do. It might just be a case of boxing a bit clever with how you go about it.
“People need to make sure you do everything possible to make sure those areas – calves, Achilles – are loose and are able to cope with the stresses of a sand-based outfield.
“But I think it’s one of those where it will be very difficult to hold someone back if they see a ball and they try to stop it – it’s a natural reaction to go for it.”
The uncertainty underfoot makes it virtually inconceivable that Ben Stokes will be risked. He missed England’s heavy defeat by New Zealand with a left hip problem and is being assessed on a day-by-day basis.
He returned to the nets for the first time in 10 days, batting against throw downs and sidearms from fielding coach Carl Hopkinson for around half-an-hour but looked in discomfort at times. He later emerged for some light running drills, jogging gently for another five minutes, but appeared some way from match readiness.
For Bairstow, the game against Bangladesh will mark his 100th ODI appearance. The 34-year-old will become the sixth member of the squad to reach that landmark, joining Jos Buttler, Joe Root, Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes, bringing up his century 12 years after an eye-catching debut in Cardiff.
“I’m very proud to play 100 games. Since I made my debut in 2011 there’s been a few ups and downs hasn’t there? But to reach that milestone and join that club is a huge achievement,” he said.
“To be playing my 100th game in India at a World Cup, having won it in 2019 and played a decent part in that, the journey this white-ball team have been on is something I’m immensely proud of.”
England may look to add an extra seamer to the XI that was defeated in Ahmedabad, with left-armer Reece Topley pushing for inclusion as a possible alternate for spin-bowling all-rounder Moeen Ali.
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