England are set to unleash Mark Wood in the third Test against South Africa, with Jofra Archer unable to prove his match fitness.
Wood has worked his way back from a badly torn side and is in line to play competitively for the first time since the World Cup final six months ago, with his last red ball appearance having come 11 months ago in St Lucia.
Archer has not been operating at full capacity since missing the previous match in Cape Town with soreness in his right elbow and his final chance to push for selection in Port Elizabeth came and went in little more than a handful of deliveries in the nets.
Like Wood, Archer comfortably clears 90mph on a good day and had he been bowling at the top end of his range for a sustained period, England would have been left with a tough decision.
As it was, he managed only two short bursts in practice and was bowling within himself throughout.
Hopes of seeing him in action this week appeared to end during a lengthy conversation involving team doctor Anita Biswas and physio Craig de Weymarn. Head coach Chris Silverwood, who joined the likely bowling group of Wood, Stuart Broad, Sam Curran and Dom Bess in the middle at St George’s Park, joined the huddle and patted Archer’s shoulder before leaving.
England captain Joe Root had earlier framed the afternoon workout as a big one to determine the final make-up of the XI but most of the hard decisions appeared to have been made.
Wood has had a litany of injury problems over several years but has impressed the management with his hard work since the start of the tour.
Root said: “The reason we’ve been quite cautious in terms of rushing him back is that history of injury. But 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.
“I know his value in the team. If he’s 100 per cent, bowling at 90mph-plus, the skills he has at that pace are going to cause problems and will be a great asset in Test cricket.”
Assessing Archer’s fitness battle, Root acknowledged the paceman’s recent workload.
“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,” said Root.
“He’s very much at the start and managing workloads is part of that. 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. We’ve got to look after him as a player and his career as well as just trying to win the series.”