Mark Wood has stepped up his bid to prove he is the man to provide England with the “X factor” they are looking for in the third Test against South Africa.
With James Anderson back home nursing a broken rib the tourists are in need of a replacement and would dearly love it to be someone capable of topping 90mph and getting under the batsmen’s skin.
Wood and Jofra Archer tick that box but both men have question marks over their fitness.
Wood has not played competitively in the six months since England’s World Cup final win, and was named man-of-the-match in his last Test appearance almost a year ago, while Archer has been suffering soreness in his right elbow.
The pair have been hitting the nets over the past two days and it is Wood who has thrust himself to the fore for Thursday’s clash in Port Elizabeth.
He has bowled at full intensity in both sessions, turning in a fiery spell on Monday and at one stage thumping team-mate Joe Denly on the glove with a rapid delivery.
Archer, who took six wickets in the series opener at Centurion, is improving but was visibly slower than Wood as they bowled side by side under the gaze of head coach Chris Silverwood, seemingly short of his fearsome best.
Both men stuck to a single spell, rather than putting themselves through a second later in the session, and will be monitored closely in the 48 hours leading up to the Test.
Any concerns about their durability would bring Chris Woakes back into the frame as a reliable stand-in for Anderson, albeit one who is no longer expected to push the speed gun.
— Rory Dollard (@thervd) January 13, 2020
Assistant coach Paul Collingwood, speaking ahead of the workout, made it clear that the management would prefer a genuine quick to spearhead the attack at St George’s Park and seemingly laid down the challenge for someone to grab the initiative.
“We have enough bowlers in and around the county circuit who can bowl at 82-85mph and try to nip it around. You want the likes of Wood and Archer to give you that X factor,” he said.
“Here at Port Elizabeth it’s generally a slower pitch so having that kind of X factor, if these guys are fit and raring to go at 100 per cent intensity, it would be great to be able to call upon one of those bowlers.
“They have an opportunity over the next two training sessions to prove to us they should be the one in the team. It’s all about busting a gut and putting 100 per cent intensity into it. It’s as simple as that. Then we’ll be able to gauge exactly where they’re at as players.”
It was Wood who most obviously answered Collingwood’s call and England must now weigh up whether he can carry his share of the load in a five-day match.
With the series set at 1-1 with two to play, it is a risk-reward equation that may offer insight into how Silverwood will run the national side.
“If you’ve got Mark Wood bowling top pace, then you’ve got a decision to make,” admitted Collingwood.
England captain Joe Root was back with the side having missed a session with an upset stomach. Root had been quarantined briefly at the team hotel, a precautionary measure after 11 players and six backroom staff were struck down by illness earlier in the tour, but fears of a secondary outbreak have been settled.