Stuart Broad faces the prospect of missing a first home Test match in eight years as England give serious consideration to unleashing the dual pace of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood at the earliest opportunity.
Injuries have prevented Archer and Wood from taking the field together in the longest format since the former’s debut last summer. But both are now fully fit – Wood following the elbow stress fracture that ended his South Africa tour early – and part of the 13-man squad for the first Test against West Indies.
With no spare batsman in this final group for Wednesday and one spinner, Dom Bess, it leaves the make-up of the seam attack as the only issue still to be debated by Chris Silverwood, the head coach, and Ben Stokes, his stand-in captain.
Broad spoke of “extraordinary” competition for places in his Mail on Sunday column and shared a personal belief that Archer, still only seven caps into his Test career but such an alluring talent, is “100%” part of England’s best side.
If so then Jimmy Anderson taking the new ball as expected – the rib injury the 38-year-old suffered in January is very much in the rearview mirror – would make it a straight choice between Broad and Wood. Chris Woakes is likely to be the other to miss out, going by the recent pecking order, despite a strong showing in last week’s warm-up.
Broad, who has not missed a home Test since being rested against West Indies in 2012 and sits 15 wickets short of 500, averages 24 with the ball from his previous two English summers and the 34-year-old would have a case to feel aggrieved should he miss out for tactical reasons.
This last occurred during the series opener between the two sides in Barbados 18 months ago when England misread the pitch, opted for two spinners and chose Sam Curran over Broad, only to suffer a 381-run hammering.
But Wood has impressed in the buildup and, though a home average of 44 needs improvement, the 30-year-old claimed nine victims in his most recent Test in Johannesburg; the temptation to ally his 90mph-plus pace with that of Archer is obvious.
Three back-to-back Tests against West Indies, followed by three more in quick succession versus Pakistan in August, make rotation inevitable this summer and mean the seamers who miss out first up may not be on the sidelines for long.
It may yet be that the management hold the more physically fragile Wood back until the second Test at Old Trafford, given a potentially bouncier surface, thus putting less onus on Stokes to bowl in Southampton during what is his first outing as captain.
England hope the pitch at the Rose Bowl will offer more than the sluggish strip witnessed during their three-day warm-up, not least with a ban on saliva being applied to the ball potentially hindering movement through the air.
England squad: Ben Stokes (capt), James Anderson, Jofra Archer, Dominic Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler (wk), Zak Crawley, Joe Denly, Ollie Pope, Dom Sibley, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.