Mark Wood fully fit despite bowling just three overs on fourth day, England insist

England insist Mark Wood is fully fit to bowl despite holding him back until the 33rd over of Australia’s run chase on a rainy Sunday afternoon at The Kia Oval, while Australia believe they have worn England’s bowlers down with their approach with the bat throughout this Ashes series.

Wood, who has 13 wickets at 20.38 across the three Tests he has played in this series, bowled only three of the 38 overs that Australia faced in reaching 135 for 0 in pursuit of 384 and was not introduced by Ben Stokes until the second session of a day that was shortened due to rain.

And while Marcus Trescothick, England’s assistant coach, acknowledged that Wood was not in perfect physical condition after bowling 81.4 overs in the series at high pace, he insisted: “He’s fit to bowl.”

“I think pretty much like everybody, there’s little aches and pains that are going off the back of a big five-Test series,” Trescothick said at the close. “Both teams will be travelling in the same way at the moment. But yeah, everyone is fit to bowl. It was a tactical decision.”

One of the drawbacks of England’s attacking style with the bat is that their bowlers have had a substantially higher workload than Australia’s across this series. They have already bowled 841.3 overs across the five Tests, 193.4 overs more than Australia – and with more to come on Monday.

Australia have faced some criticism for their relative slow scoring with the bat, encapsulated by Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne‘s tense exchange with a fan who called them “boring” as they walked back to the dressing rooms on Saturday evening. But they have made a point of trying to grind England’s seamers down across the series.
Michael di Venuto, Australia’s assistant coach, said at the close: “Certainly, part of our plan is to get them to keep coming back and bowling more overs.”

Di Venuto admitted some surprise at England’s use of Wood. “I’m not sure of those tactics,” he said. “Whether he is carrying an injury, whether he can only bowl a certain amount of overs, I’m not sure. There was some spin, so [I was] not surprised to see the two offspinners wheeling away at one end.”

One of those offspinners, Moeen Ali, has been battling a right groin strain sustained while batting on the first day of the Test. He returned figures of 0 for 19 in five overs but moved gingerly in the field, and Trescothick suggested that Moeen will not be fully fit for another few weeks.

“He’s OK,” Trescothick said. “You saw him bowl today. He’s obviously had the little niggle that he’s got. He’s obviously had a bit of rest and put his feet up. It’s not 100% – of course it’s not. It’s not going to be probably for two or three weeks from now, but we’ve got a little bit out of him and will continue to try to do that again tomorrow.”

Trescothick also believes that the ball change that took place shortly before rain intervened – after the first ball of the 37th over, when Wood’s bouncer struck Khawaja on the helmet – could have a bearing on the outcome. “I think it was just a bit harder,” he said. “That was the difference.

“Immediately, there’s a bit more life in it. Balls seem to have gone very soft very fast in this game – and this series. Both captains have tried to change them on numerous occasions. Whether it makes any difference, the rain coming down and saving it for tomorrow, who knows?”

Australia required another 249 runs to win the Ashes outright and secure a first series win in England since 2001, after unbeaten half-centuries from Khawaja and David Warner. “It was an outstanding start from our two openers,” di Venuto said. “Conditions had a lot to do with it today. It’s a very good batting wicket.

“There are a lot of guys who have been on Ashes series over here in the past and haven’t managed to win, and 20 [22] years is a long time. We’re in a great position for some of the boys to get that on their résumé; we’re all pretty keen to score those 250 runs tomorrow.”

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