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Bell looks at the positives as injury worries pile up; Prior and Pietersen can still make start of Ashes.

ENGLAND sent Ian Bell out to look on the bright side as the rain continued to pour in Sydney and injury clouds hung over Matt Prior and, to a lesser degree, Kevin Pietersen.

As a preamble to Bell's press conference, it fell to an ECB spokesman to confirm wicketkeeper Prior has torn his calf and will miss the tourists' final Ashes warm-up match against an Australian Invitational XI, scheduled to start tomorrow.

Pietersen's fitness, meanwhile, is being monitored with the batsman only taking a small part in England's indoor nets and drills at the SCG yesterday. England were confined to indoor training due to the wet weather in Sydney.

It was hardly the welcome they would have wanted in Australia's biggest city, having spent much of the past week shivering and sheltering through a scheduled four-day fixture in Hobart which was more than halved in duration by bad weather.

There is more than a crumb of comfort in a favourable prognosis for Pietersen's problem right knee - after a scan and cortisone jab in Melbourne - and, of course, it was Bell's duty to accentuate the positive. An unexpected opportunity for Jonny Bairstow, deputising for Prior when it seemed he might spend much of this tour carrying drinks and other requirements for his team-mates, is one such.

"I suppose it's not ideal, but it gives a good opportunity to Jonny Bairstow," Warwickshire star Bell said of Prior's absence this week. "We've seen in the past how important it is to get the whole of the squad playing cricket before the series starts - because you just never know, with five Tests to come."

Bairstow cannot yet know whether his centre-stage role will extend to the first Test in Brisbane in nine days' time, but given the nature of Prior's injury, that must rate a significant possibility at this stage. The ECB spokesman said: "Matt Prior has been ruled out of the tour game, starting on Wednesday, with a low-grade tear of his left calf. He will continue his rehab and recovery with a view to being fit for the first Test match." Bell added: "It's disappointing.

Matt is a key part of our success over the last few years, and obviously we want him to recover as quickly as possible." As for the Gabba, the party line appears to be cautious optimism. Bell delivered it: "There's still a bit of time. "Matt's got himself in fantastic condition for this tour, and he'll be very good with his rehab. I've got every faith that he'll be fully-fit for Brisbane.

"But it's good for Jonny, in this game, to get out there with the gloves on in an England shirt." Pietersen's diversion to Melbourne for treatment and an updated appraisal of the injury which kept him out for three months earlier this year, and almost required surgery, appears to have had a good outcome. Bell said: "Really well. I don't know the XI. But I'd have thought he's defi- nitely up for selection, and would have thought he'll play."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Nov 12, 2013
Words:504
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