Wednesday 15 January 2020 6:19 pm

Fit-again Mark Wood the way to go for England in third Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth

Jimmy Anderson’s broken rib has left England with a decision to make for the third Test match against South Africa, which starts in Port Elizabeth on Thursday morning.

Anderson took seven wickets in the 189-run win in Cape Town and will be a big miss, but his absence is an opportunity for one of Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Chris Woakes. 

All three of the contenders are out of practice. Archer missed the last Test with an elbow injury, Wood hasn’t played since the World Cup final due to a side strain, while Woakes was one of many in the squad to be struck down by illness. 

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Archer is the man in possession, having taken eight wickets in the first Test at Centurion, but he has had a busy last 10 months and England must be cautious with him. 

If he is fully fit and raring to go then I would always like to see him play, but the suggestions from this week’s net sessions are that he isn’t. Archer needs looking after in the long term so that he can stay a 95mph bowler and not slip down to 85mph. 

Full throttle

There is a bigger picture. Archer will play for England across all three formats for the rest of his career, so it is not worth gambling on his fitness. Maybe, with some more time, he could be ready to return for the fourth Test.

Woakes is England’s Steady Eddie: he’s a seasoned campaigner, who will bowl more overs in better areas than the other two.

But for me Wood is a better fit into the pace bowling attack alongside Stuart Broad, Sam Curran and Ben Stokes. 

Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes
Archer and Woakes are competing with Wood for a place in England’s team (via Getty Images)

Due to his action, which takes a lot out of him physically and has unfortunately given him ankle problems, we have only seen snippets of what Wood can do at full throttle with the red ball. 

However, he took 5-41 in his last Test – England’s win over the West Indies in February 2019 – and looked the part throughout the World Cup last summer, bowling quickly. 

Wood is the most attacking option and if the Port Elizabeth pitch proves to be a flat one he offers a real point of difference due to his pace and ability with reverse swing. 

Young guns

England should be coming into tomorrow’s game full of confidence. Their performance at Cape Town was brilliant and, although Ben Stokes once again took the headlines, there were lots of positives to take.

Chief among them was the contribution of England’s young players, with five players under the age of 25 in the XI. 

Stokes was almost embarrassed to accept the man of the match award ahead of Dominic Sibley, whose first Test century set the platform for victory. 

Dominic Sibley
Sibley struck an unbeaten 133 in the second Test (via Getty Images)

Ollie Pope made a second Test half-century and is full of promise in the middle order, Zak Crawley took a few vital catches and Curran continued his happy knack of picking up big wickets. 

I feel sorry for Matt Parkinson, who is yet to get a game despite Jack Leach’s struggles with illness, but I thought Dom Bess had a solid if unspectacular game.

The off-spinner is perhaps more suited than leg-spinner Parkinson to being a front-line spinner and brought control to one end in the fourth innings. 

For England, especially away from home, the question has always been about consistency. To win and take a 2-1 lead in the four-match series the young team now need to pick up where they left off in Cape Town.