England's plans for the first two weeks of the tour to India have been wrecked. Not my words, but those of the normally unflappable David Graveney, chairman of selectors.
Speaking on radio yesterday morning, he said "we have to send three replacements to the original squad, and the first Test starts on Wednesday. Alastair Cook and James Anderson are already on their way and Owais Shah of Middlesex has been recalled from the 'A' squad in Antigua and will follow them."
Surely England have never started a series in such total disarray, with only Ian Bell, Geraint Jones, Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison of the successful Ashes victory last summer fully fit, and none of them in prime form or match fitness.
Write down England's best XI and two are in this country (Marcus Trescothick and Ashley Giles under huge mental and physical stress respectively), captain Michael Vaughan is all but bust, and the rest are all out of form and so short of match fitness, it is difficult to build a case for them even scraping a draw in Nagpur.
It is not as though England are exactly short of back-up staff in the most difficult country to tour. David Gower was the last England captain to triumph (in 1984-84) over a debilitating mixture of heat (40 degrees expected for the series), pitches prepared for spin and the constant threat of the sort of gastric influenza that has already affected a third of the squad.
Yet the England & Wales Cricket Board has undermined every part of its own preparation by agreeing to two three day matches and only 15 days in which to acclimatise and establish match fitness. The dozen strong back-up staff could put out their own team with a 12th man; coach, physio, analyst, nutritionist, operations manager, massage therapist, bowling coach, physiologist, fully fledged doctor, media relations manager and two security experts.
The analyst has been unable to help the batsmen into form; the nutritionist has seen his charges swamped with 'Delhi belly'. He might claim he has not been helped by the hotel in Nagpur which, unlike others elsewhere, is a throwback to the touring days of 30 or 40 years ago. The frier of breakfast omelettes adds mushrooms and cheese with his bare hands.
The bowling coach has two fully fit fast bowlers, two with dodgy ankles and Liam Plunkett who has developed a sore heel. The physio has got his hands full - literally; the doctor has failed to keep stomachs settled and the busiest of all has been the media relations manager keeping the travelling media updated with medical reports.
The hotel gym is closed for renovations, and the far from soundproof walls allow every decibel of traffic noise to penetrate throughout 24 hours.
These sounds vary from road traffic, the braying of animals tugging carts and trains.
Even a fully fit squad with a proper acclimatisation period of a month might struggle, but this bedraggled lot have no chance. No matter how the modern player presses for shorter tours, the ECB must never allow such a shambles again.
Other countries usually come to England at the end of their domestic season. As do England on most occasions, but not this time. They went to Pakistan in November and December and sank almost without trace because of technical and mental frailties.
Vaughan's knee problems, together with paternity leave for Andrew Strauss and the early return home for Ashley Giles compounded everything.
Back home for Xmas and one of Fletcher's favourite phrases - "quality rest" - was seized upon in January to help Vaughan and Giles through their operations, and Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones with recuperation from worrying ankle injuries.
All the ingredients were in the mix for the resultant recipe for Graveney's "wreck", but the cricketing chiefs at Lord's shut their eyes and ears and hoped for the best.
It was nothing more than a throwback to the last tour of Australia under Nasser Hussain when Flintoff and Gough never stepped on to the field, and Giles and Jones suffered avoidable injuries which limited them to one Test apiece.
Arguably the worst thing of all on Wednesday will be if Vaughan cannot play and Flintoff leads England. The all-rounder is one of the few players who just might keep England in the game, but he has problems of his own with bat and ball without trying to hold together a mish-mash of a side.
He is the one bowler who could establish control, but he is still far from match fit, and cricket history is littered with bowling captains who either under or over-bowl themselves. With a fit Giles to provide a daily 20 overs bag of cement, Flintoff could get away with a lesser workload. With Ian Blackwell to try to do a similar job, it could still work, but Simon Jones is a poor risk after no serious match bowling since the first innings at Trent Bridge last September.
Hoggard is only a willing workhorse if conditions are against him, which leaves Steve Harmison who has played in the last 26 Tests. He has developed durability, but his chances of avoiding the donkey work of a stock bowler look slim.
Whatever the bowlers manage, it is still down to a cobbled together batting order to sell themselves dearly. Andrew Strauss is having his first poor spell in Test cricket and it is asking an awful lot for Cook to stand in successfully for the unfortunate Trescothick - easily England's most dependable batsman and the only decent player of spin in the side.
Bell has the perfect opportunity to establish himself and looks one of the few tourists who is prepared to bat for hour after hour.
Another inbuilt advantage in India's favour is that high summer will ensure three Tests of 450 overs apiece in blistering hear, compared with under 400 in Pakistan's mid-winter when bad light always stopped play.
The old theatrical cliche after poor dress rehearsals claims that "it'll be all right on the night." Not this time, because there are too many things that need a miracle of mind and body to "be all right on the five days and nights.."
Ask that back-up party of 12 who, like the players, have been sold down the river by the ridiculous handicap of 15 days preparation. ..SUPL: