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More England woes as Burns is ruled out of remainder of series



The best laid plans and all that. The opening weeks of England's tour of South Africa could hardly have been more challenging for the tourists. The sickness bug which has affected 11 players, the illness suffered by Ben Stokes' father before the first Test and now, ahead of the second at Newlands, injuries to Rory Burns and Jofra Archer, which have ruled the former out of the rest of the tour and put the latter in doubt for the Test, have contributed to one of the most challenging starts to a tour in recent memory. And that's before you consider the defeat at Centurion. At some stage, England must surely catch a break.

The injuries to Archer and Burns are the latest setbacks. Burns suffered ligament damage to his left ankle playing football during the warm-up ahead of England's training session at Newlands on Thursday (January 2). His absence for the rest of the tour is a significant blow given the increasing assurance with which the Surrey captain is playing at the top of the order. Although moving Joe Denly up to open and retaining Jonny Bairstow is an option, Kent's Zak Crawley looks set to partner Dom Sibley at the top of the order in a straight swap. Ollie Pope, recovered from the illness which ruled him out of the first Test, would then replace Bairstow in the middle order.

Archer's right elbow injury - one that he has suffered with before - ruled him out of both training days leading up to the Test and with England unwilling to risk putting him in longer term danger, his participation is looking increasingly unlikely too. "It is obviously quite disappointing to see Jofra pull up like that," Root said. "I think it's a recurring injury, something that he has had before. He did pull up very sore. He had a little trundle after our fielding practice and seemed to be in a little bit of pain.
"That is someithing you want to manage in a young talent like Jofra, making sure that we don't blow him out for six months and make sure we get the most out of him for as long as we can. It's important to weigh everything up, see what the scan says, how he pulls up today and go from there."

Already England are without Jack Leach and Mark Wood who Root confirmed are both unavailable for selection. Although Leach has returned to training, he has still not fully recovered from the sickness bug that ruled him out of the defeat at Centurion while Wood's recovery from knee surgery continues. In Leach's absence, Somerset off-spinner Dom Bess looks set for a recall to the Test side 18 months after his last appearance. Bess recently attended a Lions spin camp in Mumbai where he worked with former Sri Lankan spinner Rangana Herath.

"Everything's on the table as we speak in terms of selection," Root said. "Dom has gone away at the end of the season, after a little break, and worked very hard on his game. He's taken on board a lot of strong advice from very experienced players such as Herath and worked well with Jeetan [Patel, the spin bowling coach]."

Bess' inclusion would be quite a rise given he was not originally selected for the tour. Called up as cover because of the sickness bug which dogged the squad, he has seemingly leapfrogged Lancashire leg-spinner Matt Parkinson in the pecking order. "He's a good all-round package: he bats well, he fields well," Root said of Bess. "And he's a real competitor. It's great to see him come into this environment. It looks like he's gone away, worked hard on things and added to an already very talented package."

While many of the issues to befall England on this tour have been out of their control, aspects of their display in the first Test were certainly not.

Today, England captain Joe Root admitted his team "went away from how we wanted to go about it" with both bat and ball in the defeat at SuperSport Park. "Things seemed to happen a million miles an hour," he said. Earlier this week, head coach Chris Silverwood admitted his bowlers had gone "off-piste" in their tactics on the third morning of the first Test, conceding 125 runs in a session and letting slip an opportunity to chase a lower fourth innings than they eventually had to go for.

Those comments raise a few questions. Why did a team with plenty of international experience fail to stick to the plans they had agreed? Why could they not, in Root's words, "slow things down" to gain "real clarity about how we want to go about things"? Why wasn't Root able to get his bowlers to return to the original plan of bowling at the top of off-stump on day three instead of pounding the ball into the middle of the pitch allowing South Africa to make hay? Either the players weren't listening or they were listening and not taking any notice.

Whichever one it was, the challenge in the second Test is for England to follow their plans far more consistently and for longer than they managed at Centurion. The captain admitted his side had had a frank meeting after the first Test defeat which he hopes will have got some of the frustration out of their system and allow them to recalibrate ahead of a hugely important game. After defeat in New Zealand and a reversal at SuperSport Park, this winter is in danger of becoming a nightmare so England need a reaction at Newlands. A few cross words might be no bad thing.

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