In scoreboard terms things went relatively serenely on day three of their warm-up outing in Antigua, with the CWI President’s XI bowled out for 264 on a sluggish surface, but by then the concerns were already elsewhere.
With their two leading wicket-takers controversially axed for this trip, and a backlash bubbling away among their supporters, seeing two more of their first-choice bowlers unable to get on the pitch was the last thing the tourists needed.
Robinson took the first wicket of the day but pulled up mid-way through his fourth over with back pain and was not seen again. For a player who left the field for treatment on several occasions in the Ashes and saw his conditioning publicly called into question by team management, it was a particularly awkward turn of events.
Wood excelled in a losing cause Down Under but has yet to play any part in this match having felt unwell over the past 48 hours. He made a belated, and brief, visit to the Coolidge Cricket Ground before returning to the team hotel to rest up. It is understood England do not suspect Covid-19 and, while they hope he will soon rally, his preparations for the series have already been damaged.
In their absence the uncapped pairing of Saqib Mahmood and Yorkshire’s Matt Fisher were drafted into the game, but while both acquitted themselves handily neither made a forceful case for inclusion. Indeed, on a slow pitch that offered minimal encouragement, none of England’s remaining fit seamers were able to make a breakthrough in 44.4 overs between them. Instead, it was a more profitable outing for the spin contingent.
Jack Leach led the way with 4-62, Dan Lawrence bagged a couple of unexpected wickets with his part-timers and captain Joe Root also picked one up. As a guide to the Test series it all fell rather flat, with attention drifting towards those who were injured, ill or stewing at home in England rather than those who were busy establishing a 202-run first-innings lead.
Leach’s efforts were likely enough to dispel any thoughts of leaving him out at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in favour of an all-seam attack, but the ankle-high shooter which trapped centurion Raymon Reifer lbw was a reminder that the pitch was not exactly Test standard.
Reifer’s 106, and the inability of Chris Woakes, Craig Overton or the newer duo of Mahmood and Fisher to prise him out, will go down as a minor blemish for England.
When England’s second innings began, newcomer Alex Lees was unable to repeat his strong first impression, following his first-day 65 by nicking Preston McSween to slip for 10.
Ben Stokes replaced him, nudged up the order after lacking time at the crease in his previous innings, but he was undone by a questionable lbw verdict that meant he was gone for 19.
That left him as the only member of the top six not to bank at least a half-century ahead of the series, but England will not be too concerned about their vice-captain.
The last act of the day saw Zak Crawley lbw for 35 to low bounce, with England 279 ahead on 77-3.