By Timothy Collings
RUSTENBURG, South Africa (Reuters) - Michael Dawson, whose mind 24 hours earlier had been occupied with holiday planning, got straight down to business as England's squad replacement for Rio Ferdinand on Saturday with barely time to catch his breath following a long overnight flight.
After the 11-hour journey from London, Dawson transferred by road to the England World Cup training camp where, after checking into his room, he reported in directly for morning training in bright sunshine.
His arrival would have given a much-needed boost to the squad's spirits -- not to mention defensive resources -- after the setback of losing captain Ferdinand the day before through injury in their first training session.
Two more of England's central defenders, Matthew Upson and Ledley King, were not present on the training ground to greet Dawson: the former was tucked up in bed with a temperature and the latter was working in the gym to shield brittle knees.
The 26-year-old uncapped Dawson was called up on Friday three days after being axed from manager Fabio Capello's provisional 30-man squad.
He was planning a summer holiday when the urgent summons came from South Africa.
Ferdinand, the skipper and established senior center-back, was ruled out of the World Cup finals when he suffered a left knee ligament injury after tackling striker Emile Heskey in the final minutes of Friday training.
As Dawson jogged gingerly on to the field 15 minutes into the morning session, Capello marched across to shake his hand. Former captain John Terry, England's only other established central defender, also greeted Dawson.
Both men signaled, in their actions, how pleased they were to see reinforcements arriving to bolster England's ailing, and creaking, defensive resources just a week before their opening Group C fixture against the United States on June 12.
"All the players who are here with me are important," Capello told reporters. "But Rio was one of the starting players, the captain, a leader. So, you have to take into account this might happen.
"Sometimes it happens during a game, sometimes in training, sometimes before you get to a final. You just have to deal with it. Dawson was unlucky not be selected anyway."
England had only two central defenders, other than Dawson, fit to join full training -- Terry, 29, who was stripped of the captaincy in February following allegations about his private life, and Jamie Carragher, 32, who was talked out of international retirement by Capello to join the squad.
Dawson looked lively in training and, with relative youth on his side, offers England more pace and agility in defense than any of the other players.
While he joined the main squad, midfielder Gareth Barry, recovering from a month-old ankle injury, trained on his own on a separate pitch.
David James, 39, who had missed training on Friday because of a nagging knee injury, joined in on Saturday as the three goalkeepers had a specialist session.
During a dribbling routine former England goalkeeper Ray Clemence, now a coach, was heard to ask James, whose control was somewhat short of perfection, how long it had been since he had done anything similar.
James, another England victim of back strains and other similar injuries, laughed as he replied: "It must be four or five years!"
The incident was amusing but also serious.
It was a reminder not only of James' role as a joker but also the aging nature of England's central and senior defenders in front of him.
Without Dawson, if Ferdinand had stayed to partner Terry in front of James, the average age of that key trio would be 33.
(Editing by Jon Bramley)