Mark Wood is in pole position to be included for England’s third Test against South Africa
Archer is also coming back from an elbow injury which kept him out of the Cape Town Test
Mark Wood moved into pole position to be included in the third Test after England’s fastest bowlers were challenged to provide the X-factor against South Africa.
Wood was the clear winner in what appeared to be a bowl-off against Jofra Archer in the St George’s Park nets for the final place in the England attack, left vacant by the injured Jimmy Anderson.
With two days to go before Thursday’s third Test, England will not make a final decision until after their last training session on Wednesday, but Wood could be in line for his first international appearance since he suffered a side injury in the World Cup final on July 14.
Archer still seemed troubled by the right elbow injury that kept him out of the Cape Town Test and was down on pace again compared to the Durham man, who has been making steady progress towards full fitness throughout this tour.
Perhaps surprisingly, both fast bowlers only sent down one spell each yesterday but it did not need the speed gun to declare Wood as the out-and-out quickest on the day.
Chris Woakes, the forgotten man of this tour and one of the worst-hit victims of the sickness bug that decimated the squad over Christmas, should not be discounted and looked sharp himself as England practised in Port Elizabeth.
But with the St George’s Park pitch expected to be slow, with the possibility of spin later on, England feel they need one of their express bowlers to stand up and be counted here ahead of the quicker surface likely for the fourth and final Test next week in Johannesburg. And, on Monday’s evidence, Wood is leading the race.
Wood was the clear winner in what appeared to be a bowl-off against Jofra Archer in the nets
‘If these guys are fit and raring to go at 100 per cent intensity, it would be great to call on one of them because at Port Elizabeth we may well need that X-factor,’ said England assistant coach Paul Collingwood.
‘It was all about busting a gut today because these guys have an opportunity to show us they should be the one in the team.
‘It will be a lighter session tomorrow but we’ll be able to gauge exactly where the bowlers are at.’
This has been a largely difficult first winter of international cricket for Archer after his spectacular introduction with England in the World Cup and the Ashes last summer.
Wood is therefore likely to play his first England game since the World Cup final in July
He took only two wickets in two Tests against New Zealand, bowling with the Kookaburra ball for the first time in red-ball cricket, and then suffered with flu when he arrived in South Africa.
Archer recovered in time to play in the first Test in Centurion and took five for 102 in the second innings, but then the elbow injury he first suffered in the World Cup reoccurred at the worst possible time.
The England camp feel they are still learning what makes such a precious asset tick, but there was still the impression of Collingwood throwing down the gauntlet to Archer when he assessed his chances of playing in the third Test.
‘It’s very early in his international career and he hasn’t bowled a lot with the Kookaburra ball, which requires a completely different skillset to the Dukes,’ said Collingwood.
‘But absolutely his biggest skill is bowling 90mph-plus. We have enough bowlers in and around the county circuit who can bowl at 82mph to 85mph and try to nip it around.
‘You want the likes of Archer and Wood to give us something different and it’s important they train with that attitude to make sure they’re ready here.’
There seem no such concerns about Wood, who was brought on this trip with an eye to playing in the final Test at speed-friendly Wanderers, with anything else a bonus.
And England do not think they would be taking a gamble now if they throw Wood in for his first Test appearance since he reached 95mph and was named player of the match against the West Indies at St Lucia early last year.
‘Ideally we would have liked Woody to have gone out and got some competitive games in before he played a Test again,’ said Collingwood.
Wood will replace James Anderson who was ruled out of the Port Elizabeth Test with injury
‘But I’ve got no qualms that he could come in this week and be successful because of what he’s done in the past and what he can draw on. He’s got the skills to go out there and make an impact.’
There is still a chance that Woakes could play at the expense of a spinner — or Jack Leach could come in for his first appearance of the series — but the likelihood is off-spinning all-rounder Dom Bess will be given the chance to build on the positive impression he made in Cape Town.
Which leaves just the England pace race between Archer and Wood still to be decided. Going into a training-free day on Tuesday ahead of England’s last training session on Wednesday, Wood is the leader.