Mark Butcher and Steve Harmison have heavily criticised Joe Root for his use of Mark Wood towards the end of Australia’s second innings at Sydney.
The pair were commentating on BT Sport in the lead-up to Australia’s declaration, with Wood bowling his 15th over of the innings and the fifth over of his spell, in tandem with England’s part-timers Root and Dawid Malan. Both felt that the possibility of injuring Wood, who has struggled to stay fit through his career, meant that Jack Leach should be bowling in his place.
“I think this is crazy, Mark Wood hurtling in here, I really do,” said Butcher. “He’s not exactly been less expensive than Jack Leach was, and the risk of damaging him before the final Test match at Hobart, bowling futile overs at the back-end of this innings is just madness to me.”
“We’ve talked about Joe’s captaincy and fielding positions and things that have been labelled at Joe, and I’ve stuck up for him a little bit,” said Harmison. “You talk about fielding positions for Leach, it’s about how the bowler bowls. But some decisions are baffling, and to have your strike bowler bowling overs when they’re setting up a declaration, when they’ve got a bit of an injury track record and background anyway, I just think it’s madness. We can’t go to Hobart and compete unless we’ve got Mark Wood in the side.”
Butcher also argued that there were possible benefits to Leach bowling. The left-arm spinner has endured a tough tour, hit out of the attack in the first Test at the Gabba and dropped for the second Test at Adelaide, but claimed two wickets on the fourth day at Sydney in an improved performance.
“On the other side of that coin as well, Jack Leach has actually bowled pretty well in this innings,” Butcher said. “It’s another opportunity for him to get through more overs. He might have taken a bit of stick because of having a go at him, but he was going pretty well, particularly at Green. And then as soon as the pace, the lesser pace of Mark Wood – he’s certainly not anywhere near his quickest at moment, and why would he be at this stage of proceedings? – Green’s suddenly got away, he’s enjoyed having that pace on the ball. I just think it’s mad, I really do, and I just hope he’s got through it unscathed by the time this declaration comes.”
Harmison pointed out that with England potentially set to miss Ben Stokes through injury for the final Test, losing Wood would “cap the tour off” for England. Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler are also doubts for Hobart.
“You don’t want him to get an injury,” he said. “That would arguably cap the tour off if you lost your premier fast bowler before the end of this Test match going into Hobart, bearing in mind we’ve broken Ben Stokes for not having the preparation, the miles in his legs. His body’s packed up on him, one of the fittest guys in the team, but because he hasn’t been playing, that’s why he’s got injured.
“The point about Leach is a relevant one because Khawaja and Green, they were setting up a declaration but they were coming to a milestone. And with them coming to a milestone, Jack Leach could have got into a nice little bit of rhythm. He could have got more overs under his belt, built more confidence up. Yes, he might have gone for the odd boundary, but when they started going at him, he might have picked up a wicket or two, and that would have been huge. Now with Stokes injured, [Leach] probably doesn’t play at Hobart with the pink ball.”
Leach was introduced to the attack in the next over, and went some way towards proving Butcher and Harmison right, taking two wickets to force a declaration from Pat Cummins, and spare Wood from any more bowling.