Another injury threatens to delay the return of Mark Wood, England’s fastest bowler, although he will still be named on Tuesday morning in England’s 14-man squad for the two one-day internationals against Ireland next week and in the 15-man squad for the Champions Trophy, which starts on June 1.
After missing the whole of England’s winter, Wood suffered a groin strain on the final day of Durham’s championship match against Gloucestershire, following a six-over spell when he hit peak pace. Wood is the only England right-arm bowler who can consistently clock 90 mph – Tymal Mills the other, plays only T20 cricket – and England need the variety that Wood can bring to their attack if they are to win the Champions Trophy.
“I’ve been bowling well all game, I just haven’t taken any wickets,” Wood said when he came off the field at the lunch interval. He also admitted he had felt a bit stiff for the first couple of overs of his morning spell. He then returned to the field before the end of the interval and tried a few warm-up deliveries but did not bowl again – even though Durham were desperate to break Gloucestershire’s 10th-wicket stand that took the game beyond their reach. One more burst by Wood and Durham would surely have secured 16 points to help offset their 48-point penalty.
“A little bit tight in the groin,” was the preliminary diagnosis by Durham’s head coach, Jon Lewis. “At this stage I wouldn’t say it was too significant. But given what Woody’s been through, he wasn’t quite right – not bad but not quite right – and for that reason we didn’t use him later on. The ankle’s fine – I think for that reason we just wanted to make sure he didn’t pick something, being on the way back after such a long period away.”
“In the first innings he bowled a spell between lunch and tea that was stand-out – it was quick, great areas and good movement,” Lewis added.
“He’s put 40-odd overs into himself this game which will give him a lot of confidence – OK the groin’s a bit tight but it will give him a lot of confidence in the ankle.”
Wood has been injured more often than not since he bowled the ball that sealed England’s Ashes win at Trent Bridge in 2015. Born with a slender physique – his father and uncle were batsmen – he bowls not only the ball but himself down the pitch. The free-spiritedness and humour he brings to the England dressing-room are valuable too.
The rest of England’s squad for the Champions Trophy and the three preceding ODIs against South Africa is high quality but contains an element of predictability. To win a global trophy an X-factor is required, and England’s selectors have kept faith with Wood through his injuries and rehabilitations in the hope his extra pace will provide it.
Wood had a third operation on his left ankle after breaking down while playing for Durham against Surrey last September. England aimed to have him back playing for the Lions in Sri Lanka earlier this year, but he had to pull out and his comeback was delayed until the North v South series in March. Since then, in the championship, he has taken two wickets for Durham against Nottinghamshire and one against Gloucestershire, often beating the bat without reward but with ever increasing pace.
Last season’s T20 semi-final between Durham and Yorkshire provided the best illustration of Wood’s capacity to make an impact.Wood’s three express deliveries at Joe Root ruffled him more than anything by Mitchell Johnson in Australia.
As for the rest of England’s squad for the Champions Trophy, the only issue is whether the last pace-bowling place goes to Steven Finn, who has experience on his side, or Jake Ball. For the two ODIs against Ireland, at Bristol and Lord’s next Friday and Sunday, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes will be away in the IPL, so Ben Duckett could be recalled. It is expected Lancashire’s Liam Livingstone will have to wait for his ODI debut until the September series against West Indies when Ashes players are rested.
England squad (v South Africa and for Champions Trophy): EJG Morgan (capt), JJ Roy, AD Hales, JE Root, BA Stokes, JC Buttler, MM Ali, CR Woakes, AU Rashid, MA Wood, LE Plunkett, DJ Willey, SW Billings, JM Bairstow, ST Finn.
England squad (v Ireland): Morgan (capt), Roy, Hales, Root, Bairstow, Billings, Ali, Rashid, Plunkett, Willey, Wood, Finn, JT Ball, BM Duckett.