Ollie Robinson is poised to make his England return in Wednesday’s second Test against West Indies in Barbados – on what is another pitch shorn of any grass – provided the fast bowler comes through one last training session unscathed.
The 28-year-old missed last week’s drawn series opener in Antigua with a recurrence of the back spasms that dogged the back end of his Ashes tour but looked clear of the issue during Monday’s voluntary training session at the Kensington Oval.
A lengthy spell bowling out in the middle will still need to be repeated by Robinson on Tuesday before a final decision is made. But with Mark Wood out of the match due to an elbow injury – and awaiting scan results that will dictate his continuation on tour – at least one change to Joe Root’s attack is on the cards.
That said, this proposed comeback for Robinson and the expectation of a true batting surface leaves England wondering whether Root has enough variety at his disposal. As such, it could be that Lancashire’s Saqib Mahmood is handed a Test debut, adding slippery, slingy pace plus reverse swing if conditions allow.
It would then be a choice between Chris Woakes and Craig Overton as to who makes way, with both struggling to offer any real threat last week. The Somerset man is similar to Robinson in terms of stature and release point – both men are 6ft 5in. That may mean that Woakes is offered one more chance to address his underwhelming overseas record.
Mahmood looked sharp during a session that also featured the heartening sight of Jofra Archer bowling briskly. Approaching a year since his last England appearance due to recurrent elbow stress fractures, Archer has linked up with the squad to continue his rehabilitation with an eye on a summer return.
While England trained out in the middle, Andrew Strauss, the team’s interim managing director, provided an update on his search for a permanent successor to Ashley Giles and the first steps of a review into the English game prompted by the winter’s 4-0 Ashes debacle.
Speaking on the day the role of managing director of England men’s cricket was advertised publicly, Strauss said: “We’re very conscious there’s a ticking clock, both in terms of appointing a director of cricket and then the head coach or potentially coaches [plural] on the back of that.
“The ambition is certainly to have the Test coach in place by the first Test of the summer [2 June versus New Zealand at Lord’s], although recruitment means there are moving pieces, including notice periods.”
Though Strauss will step aside after the first of these appointments, he remains the chair of the cricket performance committee and an advisor to the ECB board. The wider review he is leading aims to have recommendations signed off this September to allow time before the start of the 2023 season.
In its early stages – with independent consultants set to be hired – the project will look at the England men’s teams, the talent pathway and the domestic landscape.
Strauss insists the goal is about England becoming world No 1 in all formats, rather than a specific drive designed to reboot the Test team, and the raising of standards.Strauss said: “I think there are a lot of areas where the game of cricket full stop can improve professionalism. That doesn’t mean it’s unprofessional. It’s just that if you start comparing it to other sports, and their approach, there are some areas.”
Past such endeavours have either seen recommendations ignored – such as key strands of the Schofield Report in 2007 – or struggled to overcome an 18-team first-class structure that features a range of different priorities. Strauss, however, pointed to the ultimately successful World Cup project that began in 2015 as an example of how the game can come together.
He added: “My gut feeling is that there will be a lot more that unites us than divides us through this process. If the shop window [the England men’s team] is functioning well, the knock-on effects for the game as a whole are enormous. And I sense an appetite for us to be bold in our approach.”