Mark Wood’s elbow injury casts spotlight on England bowling stocks

England’s bowling concerns mounted on a tough third day of the first Test in Antigua, as Mark Wood was all but ruled out of the attack for the remainder of West Indies’ first innings after complaining of soreness in his right elbow.

Wood, England’s fastest bowler and the man on whom their hopes of breakthroughs might have been pinned on a sluggish surface at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, had been a late arrival in the morning session after receiving strapping on the injury.

He bowled four overs with the old ball prior to lunch, conceding back-to-back boundaries from short balls as West Indies’ centurion, Nkrumah Bonner, capitalized on his relative lack of extreme pace, then retreated from the field for the rest of the day after just one more over with the new ball, in which Bonner launched him over fine leg for the only six of his eight-hour innings.

The nature of Wood’s injury will be a particular worry for England, given that it was elbow soreness – later diagnosed as a stress fracture – that caused England’s other 90mph spearhead, Jofra Archer, to undergo two operations in 2021, the second of which is likely to keep him out of action at least until May.

After an injury-plagued start to his Test career, including three ankle operations in the space of 12 months in 2016, Wood has enjoyed a sustained run of fitness in recent times – partly attributed to his decision to revert to a longer, smoother run- up after a sprinter’s style approach in his early years. He was England’s stand-out bowler in an otherwise dismal Ashes series, claiming 17 wickets at 26.64 in four Tests, making this the busiest winter of his 26-Test career.

In Wood’s absence, it was a day of hard toil for the remaining members of England’s attack – not least the recuperating Ben Stokes, who had not been intended as a frontline option as he continues his comeback following the side strain that hampered his Ashes campaign. In the end, Stokes was called upon for 27 overs, one of the longest innings workloads of his Test career, and ended up being the pick of the seam attack with 2 for 41, including the big scalp of Jason Holder for 45 in the morning session.

Wood’s injury comes at an especially awkward time for England’s management, given the controversial decision to omit both of their talismanic attack leaders, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, from this tour – ostensibly with a view to giving the less-heralded members of the bowling unit a chance to lead the line.

One of those, Ollie Robinson, finished the Ashes under a fitness cloud and was not available for the first Test after succumbing to a back spasm during England’s solitary warm-up match. In his absence, Chris Woakes and Craig Overton – England’s preferred new-ball pairing – returned the combined figures of 61-13-169-3 over the two days of West Indies’ innings, having been taken at nearly four runs an over by West Indies’ opening pair, Kraigg Brathwaite and John Campbell.

With a short turnaround between the three Tests, England may already be bracing for Wood’s absence in Barbados next week – and if Robinson is not ready for a return, the likely replacement would be Lancashire’s seamer Saqib Mahmood, another 90mph prospect, but who has yet to make his Test debut.

Matt Fisher, the uncapped Yorkshire seamer, is also on the tour, while Warwickshire’s Liam Norwell is understood to be among the players on England’s reserve list.

Broad and Anderson, however, are not expected to be called up as reinforcements, with Paul Collingwood, England’s interim head coach, stating after Robinson’s injury last week that they were “not about to panic”.

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