England are sweating over the fitness of leading wicket-taker James Anderson ahead of the first Test against South Africa in Durban, starting on Boxing Day (26 December). The 33-year-old is suffering from a calf injury and medics will await the result of scans before his fitness is determined for the opening game.
Anderson bowled just five overs in the tourists' opening warm-up game against a South African Invitation XI but did not feature during the victory over South Africa A. The Lancashire fast bowler missed the final two Tests of the Ashes series victory over Australia in the summer with a side strain.
"Unfortunately Jimmy's had a little bit of a tight calf muscle," coach Trevor Bayliss said. "We're just waiting on some test results there and hopefully we'll know in the next day or two.
"It's a concern. He hasn't been able to bowl a lot of overs on this tour, he has bowled overs though so whatever it is it's not a terribly bad one.
"It's always a concern if your leading bowler or leading batter misses a game somewhere, but the last time he missed one we did pretty well. You never know, I won't make any predictions though."
Should Anderson be unavailable for the start of the tour, then England have a host of potential replacements to call upon. Uncapped left-armer Mark Footitt is in contention for his full international bow while Chris Jordan or Chris Woakes could be recalled to accompany front-line seamers Steven Finn and Stuart Broad.
But Broad's involvement in the tour of South Africa will end after the conclusion of the four-match Test series after he was omitted from the one-day and T20 squads to face the Proteas in 2016. The Nottinghamshire bowler has not played for England in limited overs cricket since the 50-over World Cup and has been overlooked again less than four months before the T20 tournament in India.
Finn and Ben Stokes have both been recalled at the expense of Sam Billings and Liam Plunkett – who is also replaced in the T20 squad along with Stephen Parry – in the only changes from the squad that beat Pakistan 3-1 in the recent series in the United Arab Emirates. Reece Topley and David Willey are among those given another opportunity to impress.
"Broad wants to play and the selectors want him available going forward; I think we will need experience in the team. But on this occasion, we thought to give the young guys another opportunity," Bayliss explained. "Stuart is always there in the background and with big tournaments in the next year or two, I'm sure he'll play more one-day cricket for England.
"The selectors want to give that younger group of players and an inexperienced group of players that run at getting as much experience as they can leading up to that World Cup," he added. "Finn and Stokes are back in so someone had to miss out. It was a tough decision to make."