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England are facing a race against time over the next week to try to solve two potentially serious problems with their preferred attack for the opening Test against New Zealand in Hamilton.

Just over a week before the start of the three-Test series at Seddon Park, England have a fitness worry over left-arm seamer Ryan Sidebottom and concerns over the form of spearhead Steve Harmison which threaten to disrupt their final preparations.

Sidebottom, arguably England's best bowler since regaining his place at the start of last summer, is the biggest worry for the tourists having injured his right hamstring during the final one-day international in Christchurch on Saturday.

He has already been ruled out of England's final warm-up match, a three-day game against a strong Select XI starting on Thursday, as a precaution and he will face intensive treatment to try to ensure he is fit and ready to take the new ball for the first Test.

While they will be looking for improvements off the pitch from Sidebottom, they will be hoping for equal progress on it as Durham fast bowler Harmison attempts to rid himself of the early tour jitters which plagued his display in the drawn two-day match against an Invitational side.

"I've seen him spray it worse than that so I suppose that's quite a good start - it's not all doom and gloom with him," stressed captain Michael Vaughan.

"During the first few days in Christchurch he was a bit rusty and got better and better and as the game and the day went on he got better and better. There are good signs and if he's selected for the three-day game, he's got another opportunity to bowl more and more."

Harmison's display included four wides and two separate deliveries which flew down the leg-side for four byes after eluding the desperate dive of newly-installed wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose as England dismissed their opposition for 146.

Even a lunch-time session with bowling coach Ottis Gibson walking through his action failed to lift Harmison, who was hammered for 28 off four overs immediately after the interval.

But after Matthew Hoggard claimed three wickets and Jimmy Anderson matched his efforts, which could aid his claims for a Test place if Sidebottom fails to recover, England were in a position to declare and gain extra batting practice.

Instead, they took a pragmatic view of Harmison's display - which was given even greater importance following Sidebottom's injury - and instead decided to enforce the follow-on to give their bowlers another work-out.

Harmison did improve, claiming one for 32 from nine as overs as the Invitational side reached 102 for three at the close, but also kept feeling his back to cause further concern after he complained of lower back pain last weekend.

"Steve is stiff, but he seems all right," said Vaughan. "He was one of the reasons why we went out and bowled again, to try and give him some more overs.

"He seems to be getting better and stronger and a lot more loose the more that he goes on so that's a good sign for us - no batsman in the world likes bounce and Steve provides that.

"He's worked hard at home. We're all under the microscope back home these days and you have to do all your training and you're monitored on the amount of batting and bowling that you've done. He's arrived in not the best of form, but he's working very hard."

Harmison's struggles only served to emphasis what a big loss Sidebottom is likely to be if he cannot shrug off the injury and take the new ball alongside Hoggard in Hamilton.

"We're not concerned about him for the Test match at this stage and it's a little bit of a precaution that he'll miss the three-day game, but he has got a slight problem with it so there has to be some concern," admitted Vaughan.

"Hopefully over the next few days he'll heal fast and he'll be able to start bowling towards the end of the three-day game or when we arrive in Hamilton.

"If fit you'd have thought he'd be in the Test team the way that he's bowled in both forms of the game, he's been a really good bowler for us."

At least England can console themselves with the form of Hoggard, who swung the ball effectively and was the pick of England's attack to reduce a top five including four internationals to 26 for five before they recovered to make a more respectable total.

Lancashire seamer Anderson also bounced back from a dismal one-day series to show signs of improvement with the red ball by claiming wickets with successive balls to hasten the end of their first innings.

Stuart Broad, another candidate for Sidebottom's replacement, also bowled tidily and claimed the wicket to end the innings to leave England in relatively high spirits as they build up to the Test.

"We bowled excellently in the morning," enthused Vaughan. "Hoggy has hit his straps from the moment he arrived in Christchurch last week. He looks fit, strong and bowling how we know Matthew Hoggard can bowl so he should be a great plus for us.

"All the bowlers at time bowled very well and it's always nice to knock a few of the batsmen you're going to play against next week in Hamilton out and knock them over cheaply and early."
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