England’s troubled tour of South Africa threatened to take a fresh turn for the worse on Thursday, with Jofra Archer looking certain to miss the second Test with an elbow injury and Rory Burns limping out of the team’s football warm-up.
The squad has just got over an illness that struck 11 players before, during or after the series opener in Centurion but the bad news has continued in Cape Town.
Ben Stokes revealed in his Daily Mirror column over new year that England’s players had jokingly started to call the trip “the cursed tour”, a conclusion that is increasingly easy to agree on.
Captain Joe Root revealed at his pre-match press conference that Archer was awaiting the results of a scan and would remain a doubt for Friday, though after failing to bowl in the nets for the past two days he can essentially be counted out, before Burns added to the growing list of woe.
He was seen landing awkwardly after taking aim at goal and received initial treatment on the field before being assisted to the dressing room for assessment. He was also scheduled for a scan, leaving England with a nervous wait.
With England 1-0 down in the four-match series after a 107-run defeat in the Boxing Day Test, the tourists had pinned their hopes on being at full strength at Newlands.
They did manage to successfully leave the sickness bug in Johannesburg but are now facing the prospect of going in without two key players.
Archer is their fastest bowler and a point of difference to an attack that otherwise lacks extreme pace, while Burns is the most accomplished of their available opening batsmen.
In the first Test Archer recorded England’s best bowling figures, taking a second innings five-for, while Burn’s 84 was their highest score of the match.
The latest in a long and unwelcome line of medical bulletins from the England and Wales Cricket Board over the last three weeks read: “Rory Burns has an injured left ankle sustained in the warm-up playing football. He has gone for a scan.
“Jofra Archer will not train today at Newlands suffering with right elbow soreness. We are awaiting results of his scan. He remains a doubt for the second Test.”
While Archer’s injury may be considered part of a fast bowler’s lot, the manner of Burns’ problem will doubtless cause debate.
Jonny Bairstow missed the Galle Test against Sri Lanka last winter after suffering an ankle injury of his own while playing football. He no longer joins in with the daily workout and neither does Joe Denly, who was also injured by a tackle from team-mate Owais Shah several years ago.
On Wednesday, squad members Ollie Pope and Matt Parkinson were seen tussling for possession of the ball, with the latter’s spikes leaving their mark on his team-mate’s leg. Burns’ issue was not as the result of a tackle, with Root the closest man to him and any contact between the two almost non-existent.
Ashley Giles, director of men’s cricket at the ECB, banned football during his time in charge of Warwickshire and Lancashire and will surely take a dim view of developments.
Pope is set to return to the side at number six following his brush with illness, with Zak Crawley in line for a second cap if Burns is ruled out. An alternative option would be to promote Denly to the head of the innings and slot Jonny Bairstow in at three, but Crawley’s status as the spare opener places him in pole position.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference, before Burns went down, Root said: “It’s been one of those tours I’m afraid.
“It’s been frustrating throughout, but these things happen in sport. You’ve got to manage them as best we can, and we are trying to make sure that if anyone does pick up illness or injury then they are fit and ready to go as soon as possible.”
He went on to confirm Mark Wood remained unavailable with the side strain he arrived on tour with and that Jack Leach had not bowled enough following his brush with illness to be considered.
“They have not managed to pull up as well as we would have liked, and that is a frustration. I think everyone else, touch wood, is available,” he said.
Root was able to expand on Archer’s situation, suggesting England would err towards caution with their prized asset rather than risking causing more serious damage.
“It is obviously quite disappointing to see him pull up like that,” said Root.
“I think it’s a recurring injury, something that he has had before. He did pull up very sore. That is something you want to manage in a young talent like Jofra, making sure that we don’t blow him out for six months and make sure we get the most out of him for as long as we can.
“You look at his short career and he has had big impacts on a lot of moments in big Test matches. It’s important to weigh everything up, see what the scan says, and play it by ear. Of course he will be a big loss if he is not able to play but it will also be an opportunity for someone else.”
In all likelihood, England will retain the rest of the seam attack who played alongside Archer at SuperSport Park – James Anderson and Stuart Broad supported by all-rounders Ben Stokes and Sam Curran – and draft in a spinner.
Dom Bess, who won two caps against Pakistan in 2018, is favourite to get the call with Leach unavailable and leg-spinner Matt Parkinson unimpressive in the tour matches.
Root revealed some frank discussions had been had over recent days, with feelings running high among the group.
“We actually spoke quite honestly after the game and it’s sometimes nice when there is a bit of emotion involved,” he said.
“Obviously me and Silvers (head coach Chris Silverwood) led it but it was great to hear the rest of the group getting involved. It wasn’t like a grilling, it wasn’t like Alex Ferguson’s hairdryer. It was good conversation, getting it out there in the open and giving us a some real clarity about how we want to approach this week.”