Wood has been in the UK recovering from a hip injury sustained during England’s successful T20 World Cup campaign and will join up with the Test squad in Rawalpindi this weekend. Though the injury ruled the 33-year-old out of the semi-final against India, he was considered fit to play in the final against Pakistan before it was decided not to take a risk with selection for such a high-profile match.
His rehabilitation is said to be tracking well. However, with just three training days ahead of the start of the series on December 1, it seems unlikely he will be able to accrue the necessary number of overs at a high enough intensity to prepare himself for the rigours of a Test match.
Wood returned to international duty in Pakistan during the T20Is after missing the 2022 summer and showed how crucial his pace was as a point of difference, with six wickets at 7.33 in his two appearances in the seven-match series. He carried that form into the World Cup, with nine wickets at 12.00 in four matches, bowling the fastest spells and even walking away with the fastest delivery of the tournament – a full delivery at 154.74kph to New Zealand’s Glenn Phillips.
“No, we’re sticking with it,” said Stokes. “We’re not going to call up another seamer to this group.
“We took the decision to let Brooky and Woody spend that time at home, obviously being at Pakistan and the World Cup,” Stokes said. “We felt a week at home for them would be more beneficial, just to get their batteries recharged, and obviously with Woody’s injury, getting home and being around his wife and child would be better than being out here and getting all his rehab, which he could do at home.
“We’ve let them go home. I haven’t had much contact with them, just to let them chill out and relax. From all reports, Woody’s coming on nicely and we’ll see how he is when he gets out here.”
It was a huge show of faith in an 18-year-old with just three first-class matches to his name, but those at the ECB, particularly performance director Mo Bobat, are convinced he is ready for this elevation.
Stokes evidently feels the same. When asked if he would have any qualms selecting Ahmed in an XI this winter, he was unequivocal in response: “No, absolutely not. That was one of the things where we said ‘yes, we are bringing him into the squad to give him that experience and get him involved’. If anything came down to it and we felt like we wanted to select him, then we definitely would.
“He’s obviously not the finished article yet, but we feel with someone like that – the way that he bowls, the way that he bats – getting him into this environment will do him the world of good. Being around all the senior players and getting to work with the best coaches in the world, in my opinion, is only going to do him the world of good.
“I don’t think this should be looked at as a huge amount of pressure put on his shoulders. I think it should be looked as a great opportunity for a young lad to come in, to be in this environment, and be able to work on his skills. And then hopefully, who knows where the next two or three years will take him. We just wanted to get him in and make him feel comfortable around the ground.
Stokes himself has been stepping up his work since the World Cup. He took no part in the first two days of the match between the Test squad and England Lions, instead opting to net and bowl in the middle during the intervals.
“I looked at this fixture here in particular, and honestly thought I’d get more out of these three days training,” Stokes said. “Getting my bowling workloads back up again after having a break after the World Cup in particular. I like working on my skills in the nets rather than being out there in the middle. I’ve really benefited from these three days, definitely, and just because I’ve missed this game, I don’t feel like I’ve missed a trick or feel underprepared. We’ve still got three days out in Pakistan to prepare for the first Test.
“There’s no injury within the group which is great – the first time in a while, so that’s good. We’ve had a few lads on the Test tour be out here with the Lions a couple of weeks before we met up. It’s all about peaking at the right time and the message at the start of the camp was to build up towards two days before that Test, and still have something left in the tank to get going, because you don’t want to burn yourself out now and almost be ready a week too early.”
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo