Stuart Broad, Jack Leach and Jofra Archer, the three England players most affected by the flu-like illness which has run through the squad, will play no part in the final day of the warm-up game against South Africa A in Benoni on Sunday (December 22). After all three players missed the first tour game too, it means they will not have had any match practice ahead of the opening Test, which begins on Boxing Day at Centurion.
The trio had a light workout at Willowmoore Park on Saturday afternoon, the second day of the tour game. Broad and Archer bowled for ten minutes while Leach did a longer spell. Rather than rush them back into action on day three against South Africa A, however, England’s management instead decided that all three would have another light training session as they step up their workloads.
While all three players are making steady progress in their recovery, it is still too early to tell whether they will be available for selection for the first Test. They will continue to be monitored in the lead up to the game at Centurion. Of the group, Broad appears most advanced in his recovery and tweeted on Sunday: “It’s been a long week but things are looking up.”
Nevertheless, it has been a difficult start to the tour for England and far from ideal preparation ahead of an important Test series particularly as there are concerns with other fast-bowlers in the squad. James Anderson has not played for England since the first Ashes Test in August although he has come through both warm-up games unscathed and Mark Wood is not yet back to full fitness after knee surgery and is unlikely to be available until the third Test. Ben Stokes also continues to manage a knee injury.
“It’s not ideal,” Root said at the end of the warm-up game. “But these things sometimes happen and you have to get on with it. Those guys have been very frustrated but they’ve come in the last few days and trained as well as they can. When it comes to it, we will have to make some very shrewd decisions [on selection]. It will be a fine balance in making sure the right decision is made but absolutely make sure we do everything we can to get those guys ready to go.”
As a precaution England have called-up the Somerset pair, Craig Overton and Dom Bess, who arrived in South Africa on Saturday. Overton, who played in the fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford in September, is the less likely to play of the two given the other fast-bowling options in the squad. Sam Curran and Chris Woakes are fit and available and Anderson, who picked up three South Africa A wickets, is likely to be selected if he has no adverse reaction to his workload. Broad and Archer could also recover in time.
“Jimmy coming back, he looks like he’s hitting his straps really well,” said Root. “You can see the benefit of the time off he has had. He’s worked really hard physically, he looks in great shape. Probably as strong as I have seen him. It’s really pleasing and a great example to the rest of the guys that at the age he is, to still have the hunger and desire to take that time and improve himself.”
Bess has more of a chance of playing at Centurion should Leach not recover and England opt to play a spinner. Matt Parkinson, Lancashire’s leg-spinner, was the second slow bowler in the original squad but he is inexperienced. Bess has played Test cricket, gaining two caps against Pakistan last summer, and his off-spin, while less threatening than Parkinson’s wrist-spin, is more of a known quantity. Either way, England will desperately be hoping Leach is fit.
The tourists will hold an optional training session on Monday (December 23), a full-squad session on Christmas Eve and then another optional session on Christmas Day. Given the lack of preparation time that Broad, Archer and Leach have had so far on tour, it seems likely that all of them will have to get through a decent amount of work over the next three days to be available for the first Test.