England paceman Jofra Archer is the likeliest replacement for the injured James Anderson if he can prove his fitness ahead of the third Test against South Africa, says Michael Atherton.
Archer, 24, missed the tourists’ series-levelling victory in Cape Town with an elbow injury but after a successful scan is back in contention following confirmation that Anderson is to fly home because of a rib injury.
England will monitor the progress of both Archer and fellow quick bowler Mark Wood (intercostal injury) in the coming days and have time to make a decision, with the third Test not starting until Thursday January 16.
S Africa vs England
January 16, 2020, 7:30am
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Somerset seamer Craig Overton will remain with the squad as cover and all-rounder Chris Woakes is also available, but former England skipper Mike Atherton says he would lean towards selecting Archer.
“It’s a long time since England have been to Port Elizabeth but if the pitch hasn’t changed from the last time they were there and from when we played, it’s quite a slow, flat, coastal surface so I would say you’d want the extra zip – so Archer would seem the likeliest replacement,” said Atherton.
“He’s put in three five-wicket hauls in seven Test matches, so that would be the obvious change; the other change that they’ll consider is whether to bring in Jack Leach for Dom Bess.
“Bess really came in because Leach was unwell and you couldn’t argue that he’s done enough to keep his place with a pair and one wicket on a wearing fifth-day pitch, if Leach is fit. If Leach was fully fit I’d probably go for Leach – I’d go back to the man they considered their principle spinner.”
Fellow Sky Sports Cricket pundit Nasser Hussain agrees Archer, who has taken 30 wickets at 27.40 in his Test career to date, is at the front of the selection queue.
“If Jofra is fully fit I would put him straight in,” said Hussain. “He’s got three five-wicket hauls in seven Test matches; he got a five-for in the last game that he played. The Port Elizabeth pitch is pretty flat and you want that extra pace as well.
“So if he is fully fit I would go with Archer straight back in. If he’s wavering in any way, Chris Woakes is now fully fit. He’s an exceptional cricketer.
“Mark Wood has a history of injuries and if he’s sore I would want him to do so much more work before he comes back into a real hard Test match on a flat pitch. You might want to save Wood, if he can get through everything, for the Wanderers on a quicker pitch.”
Meanwhile, Anderson faces up to eight weeks on the sidelines due to his rib injury – a cruel blow after England’s leading Test wicket-taker of all time had battled his way back into the side following a calf problem.
The 37-year-old said on Twitter he hopes the injury to heal “in a few weeks” and Atherton said this latest setback in no way signals the end of the veteran seamer’s career.
“With great players generally, and Jimmy Anderson is a great cricketer, you tend not to write them off because they are a little bit different from your run-of-the-mill players so they have deep reserves of desire and all of the things that he’ll require to get back again,” he reflected.
“It’s a very unusual injury. I can’t really remember a fast bowler going out with a broken rib. But I wouldn’t write him off. I thought he looked back to his best at Newlands compared to Centurion, where it was unsurprising that he needed a run out after such a long absence and he showed just what England have missed in that game.”
Hussain agrees Anderson – just the ninth man to win 150 Test caps – has plenty more to give.
“It’s hugely disappointing for him,” he said. “I saw him on the pitch the other day and I was trying to work out from his body language whether it was a case of ‘I’m in pain’ or whether it was ‘I’m so frustrated after what I’ve done to get back to this situation and here we go again’. I think it was a combination of both.