Jofra Archer is all but certain to miss this week’s third Test against South Africa after the England fast bowler pulled up during his final net session at St George’s Park.
The 24-year-old, who has been suffering with pain in his right elbow since New Year’s Day and missed England’s win in the second Test at Cape Town, sent down around half-a-dozen deliveries from his full run-up before stopping and consulting the team doctor, Anita Biswas, and physiotherapist, Craig De Weymarn.
The discussion lasted around five minutes before Chris Silverwood, England’s coach, joined it and gave Archer a consoling pat on the shoulder. Archer later attempted to bowl again but was only able to manage around five deliveries before terminating the session.
The bad news was at least mitigated by the fact that fellow fast bowler Mark Wood appears ready to resume his Test career after an 11-month gap. Under the watchful eye of Silverwood, Wood was taken through a light bowling session out in the middle in Port Elizabeth alongside Stuart Broad and is now favourite, ahead of Chris Woakes, to come into England’s XI to replace the injured James Anderson ahead of the start of the Test tomorrow morning.
Wood’s last appearance in this format came against the West Indies in St Lucia 11 months ago, when he took his maiden five-wicket haul in Tests during a performance on day two of that match many observers rated as the quickest they had ever witnessed by an England bowler.
Like Archer, Wood is capable of consistently eclipsing 90 miles per hour during his quickest spells and the fact the bone-dry pitch in Port Elizabeth is expected to significantly aid reverse swing will surely see England unleash the Durham bowler, one of the team’s best proponents of that art, for the first time since last July’s World Cup final.
Knee and side injuries have kept him out since but Joe Root, speaking before training on Wednesday, suggested Wood would play if he could get through his final bowling session without any problems, which he did.
“With Mark, if you look at the last summer of cricket he’s played, he actually got through a lot of cricket injury free which is testament to how hard he’s worked on his rehab and making sure his body can cope with different things,” said the England captain. “He’s had a sustained period getting ready for an opportunity be it this week or later in the tour. The reason we’ve been quite cautious in terms of rushing him back is that history. I know that his value in the team is 100 per cent. If he’s 100 per cent, bowling at 90-plus-mph, the skills he has at that pace are going to cause problems and will be a great asset in Test cricket.
“Every now and then, you can’t worry too often about whether he’s going to get through a five-day game. If they’ve proven themselves to be fit, if they’ve jumped through every hoop and worked very hard to get back there, you have to give them that opportunity. As I say, we’ll look at training today and make a strong call at the end of it.”
With just a four-day gap between this match and next week’s final Test in Johannesburg, Archer’s fitness concerns mean he may even be ruled out of the rest of the series.
Root was certainly keen to underline how careful England have to be in managing the workload of a fast bowler who has played 22 international matches, including seven Tests, since making his debut in an ODI against Ireland at Malahide last May.
“I think the thing with Jofra is, as I’ve said a number of times, he’s 24,” said Root. “He’s right at the start of his career. He’s got a huge amount of ability and, in seven Tests has three five wicket hauls. “It’s clear to see what he’s capable of doing. He’s very much at the start and I think managing workloads is an important part of it as well. He’s played a huge amount of cricket since he’s come into the international arena and we’ve seen a little bit of pushback from his body with that elbow injury.
“Of course, if he’s fit and raring to go you want him in your side. But you want to make sure he’s 100 per cent ready and he can deliver all his skills: not just seam and swing it around but bowl at 90mph too. We’ve got to look after him as a player and his career as well as just trying to win the series.”