Wood, rated as one of the quickest bowlers England have ever produced, played the first Test of the summer against West Indies at the Ageas Bowl, but hasn’t featured since then. In that game, he lined up alongside fellow speedster Jofra Archer, but after defeat in that game, England reverted to picking at least two more conventional English bowlers who rely on swing or seam rather than high pace.
After missing the second Test of the West Indies, Archer played in England’s next three Tests, with Wood missing out on each occasion. But with Archer rested as England returned to Southampton, England opted to bring in Sam Curran, the slowest of England’s seamers, rather than Wood, meaning that for the first time this summer they don’t have an out-and-out fast bowler in the XI out of choice – England had already said that Wood would be rested for the second West Indies Test by the time the news of Archer’s bio-secure breach broke.
With Ben Stokes missing out, Atherton suggested Curran’s inclusion was to lengthen England’s batting order. But one of Stuart Broad or James Anderson could have been left out for Wood without weakening England’s batting depth.
“Curran preferred to Archer today. Or maybe I should say Curran preferred to Wood because we understand Wood is 100 per cent fit. Archer is rested,” Atherton said during the first session. “It’s odd really when you think of the team that England played here for the first Test match against West Indies that had Archer and Wood together. And now neither of them.
“It’s hard to understand England’s logic sometimes. The selection is based very much on the fact that Stokes is not here. They want a bit of ballast in that lower middle order and it’s humid conditions, so from that point of view there’s logic. But England were very vocal about the fact that they wanted a fast bowler in every game this summer.”
He picked up on the theme again during the lunch break. “The selection of the England team is interesting, just when you see how they’ve gone away from where they were in the first Test match here at the Ageas Bowl,” he said. “They played their two fast bowlers and now they’ve not played either of their fast bowlers even though both are fit and able to play, so that’s an interesting talking point.
“I was chatting with Nass [Nasser Hussain] off air in the first session, and you kind of think that the common sense thing is to go with a couple of English-style bowlers, your one fast bowler, one of the two, Archer or Wood in every game, and then an all-rounder, and that’s the kind of balance to cover all bases. Curran’s selection really is based on the absence of Stokes because their worried about that middle order in the absence of Stokes, so you can see how they’ve got to what they’ve selected.”
Hussain concurred with Atherton’s assessment, feeling that England should always include one “faster nasty” in the XI. He also said England’s selections should continue to be made with “one eye on the future”. Wood averages 44.91 with the ball in home Tests, and 20.76 outside of England.
“We thought [the selection decision] would be easier because they weren’t replacing Ben Stokes the all-rounder yet, Ben had been bowling very few overs,” he said. “But actually they were more concerned about Ben’s batting than his bowling, I think they were always going to play the four seamers.
“But because Ben was such a star performer with the bat over the last year or so, not only did they ned young Zak Crawley, they felt that’s not enough, we’re going to need a few more runs from our lower middle order, so they played Sam Curran. I agreed with that, I think generally, home or away, you need one faster nasty in your side. Have one eye on the present, but also one eye on the future, an pace will win you games away from home.”