Mark Wood has been rested from the final Test against Pakistan, in Sharjah, as part of the management of his chronic ankle problem.
It is understood that it was always England’s plan to rest Wood during this series regardless of his performances, although the way he came through the first two matches had suggested he may make the full series. He produced his most impressive Test in Dubai, taking five wickets in the match with sustained hostility, including 3 for 39 in the first innings.
Wood was left out of the third Test against Australia, at Edgbaston, earlier this year due to similar concerns over his ankle but this time the decision to leave him out has been taken well ahead of the start and could be a nod towards greater player rotation in Tests.
Steven Finn’s withdrawal earlier in the tour with a foot injury hampered England’s plans to rotate between him and Wood during the series and it was decided to give Wood the back-to-back Tests in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Wood has previously admitted he may need surgery on his ankle at some point but England’s packed schedule would mean him missing a considerable amount of cricket.
Given the workload concerns surrounding him it was a surprise when he was named in all three squads for this tour and his participation in those may now be reconsidered. England start a four-Test series against South Africa on Boxing Day.
“Especially last game he showed how vital he is in these conditions with the reverse swing and extra pace,” Ben Stokes said. “The ankle has been a setback for quite a while so of the best possible way to get as many games as possible out of him is to rest him from time to time I think it’s probably the right call.
“It’s a big shame for us and for him as well because he said in an interview that we haven’t seen the best of him, but out here it’s the most consistent he has been. Hopefully the ankle settles down.”
There are a few routes England could take to replace Wood. The most logical would be to recall Liam Plunkett as a hit-the-deck fast bowler even though Sharjah is expected to be an unresponsive pitch – because it is England’s quicks that have challenged Pakistan the most.
However, they may still consider bringing in Samit Patel, who played his previous Test on the 2012-13 tour of India, as another spin-bowling allrounder on a surface that is expected to turn. Trevor Bayliss, the England coach, said that it was part of the pre-series thinking to consider three spinners in Sharjah, although conceded that the success of the quicks now made it unlikely.
The other pace bowler in the squad is Chris Jordan who was called in as Finn’s replacement. He is known as a good exponent of reverse swing, which could work in his favour while his slip-catching is also outstanding.
Wood’s absence means England are now likely to make at least two changes for the final Test as they aim to level the series. Jonny Bairstow looks certain to replace Jos Buttler behind the stumps after he spent England’s training session on Friday with the gloves and in position when the slip cordon had catching practice. Buttler has averaged just 13.00 since the start of the Ashes and his omission would open the spot for James Taylor to slot into the middle order for his third Test cap.
“If the decision comes to Jos being left out then he’s not a bloke to dwell on it too much,” Stokes said. “He’ll go away and work as hard as he always does. I’ve been in the same position and it’s not a nice place to be. Everything comes around and eventually you do find form, you just have to keep working as hard as you can
“When you get a break from cricket it’s quiet nice to get away and not think about the game for quite a long time although I get bored after a week away. If he does end up not playing the time off might do him well because he’s had a long summer.”
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.