Jofra Archer has made a strong case for a recall to England’s Test side with an eye-catching performance in the nets.
Archer, who has missed the previous two Tests due to an elbow injury, generated impressive pace during a seven-over spell in Johannesburg on Wednesday. Jos Buttler, one of the unfortunate batsman who had to face him, was hit on the body on a couple of occasions and edged a couple of other deliveries.
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At a ground which traditionally provides some encouragement for pace bowling – it’s 6,000 feet above sea level meaning the ball tends to carry further (off the pitch and the bat) and, it seems, faster – England will be keen to include Archer against a South Africa team who looked uncomfortable against Mark Wood‘s pace in Port Elizabeth. In a perfect world, England would probably like to include both Wood and Archer.
It’s far from certain that either of them will be fit at this stage, though. Archer will be required to prove that he has come through Wednesday’s spell without any repercussions in training on Thursday, while Wood – and the other bowlers who played in Port Elizabeth – was given an extra day off on Wednesday. Wood, too, will need to show his match fitness in training on Thursday. Somewhat ominously, given his fitness record, he was described as “sore” by the England management after his exertions in the third Test.
If both are deemed fully fit, the England management will face a tough decision over who to leave out. One option will be to revert to a five-man seam attack – as they did in the final Test in New Zealand and the first Test of this tour – meaning no place for the offspin of Dom Bess. That would be tough on Bess, who claimed a maiden five-wicket haul in Port Elizabeth, and it may be he would also enjoy the extra bounce in this surface. England may feel that Joe Root, who claimed four wickets with his own offspin in the second innings in Port Elizabeth, is capable of supplying the spin they will require.
The other options is to leave out one of Sam Curran or Stuart Broad. Broad claimed 6 for 17 in the second innings here four years ago, however, and would appear to have the perfect game for the ground, while Curran continues to contribute with bat and ball – of England bowlers, only Broad (with 12) has taken more than his nine wickets in the series while he made a brisk 44 in Port Elizabeth – and England appreciate the variety his left-arm angle provides.
At this stand, though, it seems more likely Archer will make a straight swap with Wood. The last time Wood played back-to-back Tests was in July 2017, when he finished with figures of 0 for 129 from 35 overs in the second match. He is, however, a better bowler now and, since he increased his run-up towards the end of 2018, puts less stress through his body in delivery.
“Historically, it’s a pitch which has good carry and pace and generally starts softer then quickens up” Graham Thorpe
“Jofra had good rhythm and bowled nice and quick today,” Graham Thorpe, one of England’s assistant coaches, told TalkSPORT. “That’s where we want Jof to be. He looks good, but he will have to come in again tomorrow and back it up.
“The elbow problem has been a big issue for him. You can’t force that; you have to wait for the player to be confident with it.
“Mark Wood hasn’t played back-to-back Test matches for a while, but he bowled exceptionally well for us in Port Elizabeth. He bowled at high speeds of 90mph plus and gave us an X-factor. We’ll have to see how he is and I’m sure Woody will be really honest with us.
“Historically, it’s a pitch which has good carry and pace and generally starts softer then quickens up. It has that carry which bowlers, batters and spinners alike enjoy.
“It would be tough if Bess didn’t play this Test. He has done himself no harm, though, in the way he has come into the set-up and the way he’s bowled. He’s progressed from the last time I saw him about six months ago and when you perform it gives you confidence. So we won’t rush straight into a decision, it’ll be nice to have all those options on the table.”
It doesn’t appear there will be much discussion over Buttler’s place. He hasn’t been at his best with the bat or the gloves in this series – he is averaging 17.40 – and struggled in the nets on Wednesday. He lost his middle stump to Chris Woakes – who is bowling nicely but seems to have little prospect of forcing his way into the side at present – and was hurried by Archer. Jonny Bairstow, who batted after him in the nets, looked more comfortable.
But England have invested a lot of time in Buttler and they are not set to abandon him just yet. He may well need a good Test here, though, with talk of a recall for Ben Foakes for the Sri Lanka tour growing.
“I am really confident that Jos will have a good Test match here,” Thorpe said. “The most important thing is getting the mindset right of all our players. There are guys who have been performing well and guys who might feel individually that they want to do more. Jos might have an edge of frustration but I can see the way he’s working. For me, he looks in good form and it’s a matter of time before he gets a score for us.”
Most of the team involved in the third Test took the day off on Wednesday. All will train on Thursday, with the match starting on Friday.