Ben Stokes has revealed that England “wanted to play Mark Wood” in the second Ashes Test at Lord’s, starting on Wednesday, but doubts over his durability meant they were forced to select Josh Tongue for his second cap instead.
Tongue is the only change from the side that lost by two wickets in the first Test at Edgbaston last week, replacing Moeen Ali as England field an all-seam attack on a pitch that retained a healthy covering of live grass the day before the game.
Stokes said that Moeen’s spinning finger, which he cut on his return to first-class cricket last week following 21 months away, had “recovered really well” but a combination of conditions at Lord’s and concerns that he might re-open the wound led to the selection of a fourth seamer.
Wood was England’s leading wicket-taker on the 2021-22 tour to Australia and remains their fastest available bowler, but has not played a red-ball game since England’s tour to Pakistan in December and has not played a competitive fixture since his most recent IPL appearance on April 15. Fitness-permitting, England will unleash him in the third Test at Headingley next week.
“We wanted to play Mark Wood,” Stokes said. “We felt that he could definitely start the game but with conversations, we felt the extra week with build-up and getting his loads up would give him a better chance and an opportunity to play a full part from Leeds onwards.
“And we brought Tonguey into the team as a like-for-like with Woody. We turned up here at Lord’s and saw there was quite a lot of grass on the wicket, a bit of green. Traditionally, Lord’s has offered more for the seamers and with how Mo’s finger was last week… we just thought we would get more out of our fourth bowler being Josh Tongue this week.”
Stokes said that Wood had spoken candidly to him after bowling in training on Monday. “Me and Mark are great friends,” he said. “We go back a long way. I spoke to him how I’d want him to operate in this game and he was very honest with me.
“He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to give what he’s known for throughout this Test match. So the decision was made to allow him to keep building his body up to give himself the best opportunity to go out, from Leeds onwards, to play a full part.”
Tongue, the 25-year-old Worcestershire seamer, is a surprise inclusion despite the success he enjoyed on this same ground on debut against Ireland earlier this month. He claimed second-innings figures of 5 for 66 to set up a ten-wicket win, and provided a point of difference to England’s attack on a slow pitch that proved difficult for creating wicket-taking opportunities.
He has been picked ahead of Chris Woakes, who has a remarkable record at Lord’s but appears to have slipped some way down England’s pecking order, as well as Matthew Potts, who has been released to play for Durham in the County Championship.
Stokes suggested that Tongue would continue to be used as an enforcer in an attack that also features James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ollie Robinson. “Broady, Jimmy and Robbo will tell you it’s always nice having someone who can bowl at 90mph doing it,” Stokes said. “Just having that versatility as a bowler this week is going to be very useful.
“The only thing that’s different is the occasion for him. He’s had his first Test match, his debut game, which he’s had huge success from. Coming in and being able to use him in a fourth seamer role is something that I’m very much looking forward to him being able to do and I think he’s really looking forward to the challenge as well.”
This is the first time that Stokes has gone into a Test as captain without a frontline spinner in his side, with Joe Root – who bowled 22 overs of offspin at Edgbaston, returning match figures of 1 for 58 – his only part-time option.
“He’s gone from strength to strength,” Stokes said of Root’s bowling. “The more responsibility I’ve given him with the ball has brought out another side to Joe. It’s great having someone like that who also averages 50 with the bat – that’s always nice.”
Stokes also said that he hopes to “play even more of a part with the ball” in the second Test, after bowling 14 overs at Edgbaston. “I’ve recovered really well,” said. “Last week was a huge confidence boost for me. In all the build-up it was in a controlled environment around just training without having to stand in the field or back days up.”
His fitness has been in question throughout the summer and he has bowled with heavy strapping on his left knee. “Being able to bowl that longer spell on the last day was another confidence boost for me,” Stokes added. “At the moment, things are looking good and hopefully I can play even more of a part with the ball in this game.”
England: 1 Zak Crawley, 2 Ben Duckett, 3 Ollie Pope, 4 Joe Root, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Ben Stokes (capt), 7 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Ollie Robinson, 10 Josh Tongue, 11 James Anderson.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98