Harbouring Ashes dream, ‘X-factor’ Mark Wood has started delivering on unfulfilled promises
“I would love to be part of the Ashes downstairs, every English cricketer grows up dreaming of winning this streak,” Mark Wood said last year, but after a day of doing next to nothing, the call Ashes looked more like a dream than reality.
Mark Wood, red-ball cricket and the Ashes – this trio is hard to separate. At least since the last Ashes in Australia, whenever Wood has had the red ball in his hand, England fans couldn’t help but gush at the prospect of finally having a real fast launcher, sending rockets down Under. After all, they’ve always been struck by lightning, especially in Australia. But, the more we see Wood in Tests, knowing his vulnerable body very well, the very idea of playing him even in Tests is quite scary. White ball cricket is always comforting on his body and innate abilities, but – England and Wood – have always fueled the Ashes dream. He’s the X factor, after all, he’s the one they seemingly protected, like a protégé.
In fact, he was even selected in the current test against New Zealand, despite his poor record at home and what’s more, he hadn’t even taken county cricket by storm this season. Someone like Craig Overton had done it. While Olly Stone had shown that he not only had the pace but also the precision, Mark Wood was chosen in front of him, on his X factor.
Going into that test, Wood had an average of 44.91 and had a strike rate of 77.2, comfortably the worst of any English point guard since his home debut, if we run a minimum of five tests. In fact, the second worst of all, Steven finn with an average of 34.12 and an SR of 60.5, has much better figures. And the last time Wood started the summer before a certain Stuart Large, his inclusion may have shocked everyone, but certainly not his listless performance that followed. But, still skipper Joe root and the team leadership trusted Wood.
And the first day of the Lord’s Trial was reminiscent of his forgettable appearances in England – a brisk pace, but a lack of wickets. He ended the day with numbers 0/49, a day when England were behind with James anderson and Stuart Broad running a solitary wicket between them on a placid wicket. A deck that an X factor like Mark Wood was supposed to thrive on. What to sweat the opposition. We expect to pick up counters. But he was there, playing decently, but unable to create chances.
At best, he managed to bother Conway with his bouncers, but that didn’t translate into a wicket as Conway continued to impress. 59% of its deliveries hit the 90 mph mark, but to no avail. Ollie Robinson, much slower than him, was able to not only disturb hitters but also be among the wickets, with his ability to move the ball and control. Wood hadn’t bowled badly, per se, but had a lot to prove, which he certainly hadn’t.
Wood finally takes on its full meaning
On the second day, with Conway and Nicholls placed at the crease, and the second new ball oscillating less than 0.65 ° vs. 1.11 ° with the first new ball, England were up for a tough challenge. The first day had already proven to be the flattest field of the first day at the Lord’s house in the past five years, according to CricViz’s PitchViz ranking. Also, in an effort to bowling, to make up for their late tilt on day one, England got off to a bad start, bowling loosely, trying to get it full and helping the batsmen get away with some inexpensive shopping.
By the time Mark Wood had the ball in hand, New Zealand were rolling with 282 races on board with the loss of three wickets. 500 seemed inevitable. One thing the first day had made clear to Wood was that he needed to do more than just bowling at a high pace and typing short.
But Wood rose to the challenge head-on and showed he wasn’t a one-ride pony. Against the course of the game, he got a well-placed Nicholls at a bouncer. Unlike many of his other bouncers, it wasn’t just about hitting him short to the beat, not that he’s the tallest too, but rather the precise positioning of the ball – around Nicholls shoulder – like a blow of ace on the chessboard which broke his perseverance at the fold.
The biggest takeaway was that Wood was ready to not only play as an X factor, but do whatever it takes to be one. Or, he could have lost it after the first day failed to reap rewards for its tough jobs. Losing faith when the going gets tough is the easiest, but instead Wood channeled his inner frustration and used it to free the sleeping beast with a touch of sensitivity to turn things around for himself and him. England.
It could be BJ WatlingIt was last summer as a test player, but Wood wasn’t in the mood to be a nice host. All he cared about was breathing fire. A slower pace, but more lively. And this time, an 88mph delivery that was full, held its line, did the trick as much as the Lord’s slope. With this wicket, the Durham pacer showed he was smart too. After tilting balls to length, he just, at the right time, dropped a full delivery, and Watling was beaten for all the money to drag him.
When Mitchell santner too engaged in a tough defense and chipped it at Anderson, Wood had already entered the Kiwi batsmen’s head and haunted them. Santner’s counter was a simple demonstration of this. From 282-3, New Zealand was reduced to 294-7, with Wood taking three scalps and delivering one of his best test spells, which at one point read – 6-2-7-3.
Wood (0.6 °) had the least swing of any English bowler, but shone the most during the day, for the simple fact that he mixed things up masterfully – playing mostly bowling and using short-pitch deliveries as a surprise weapon. For fast bowlers gifted with rhythm – precision and not overdoing it – remains a key aspect, something Wood hasn’t appreciated much in his testing career. But on the second day he fell in love with the conditions and even played about 10% slower, but sharp enough. He cleverly combined the rhythm with other necessary aspects. If not for him, New Zealand was on its way to 500, but his remarkable bowling stint meant that they didn’t even make 400. Exactly, the kind of impact that makes management hold on to him. the blow even when it is unpopular.
With today’s display he returned the confidence shown by the England team and seized the chance with both hands. With Jofra Archer likely to miss the big test showdown against India, there isn’t a single point guard who comes close to his express pace. And this is where Mark Wood can turn out to be a good call, for the variety he brings to the attack. After all, no one approaches the bowling alley as fast as he does. And on flat or slower surfaces, where Broad-Anderson becomes the least threatening, he can be THE MAN, to make a difference. At least his turnaround in this event has amply proved that he deserves a fresh start.