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Mark Wood: You blink, you miss

Last updated on 10 Jul 2023 | 04:50 AM
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Mark Wood: You blink, you miss

Whether he falls over in his follow through or bowls thunderbolts, Mark Wood is a pure entertainer

Mark Wood does things faster than you can blink your eyes. Usman Khawaja got a ground-zero experience of that in Wood’s first spell of the Headingley Test. For a batter who's natural tendency is to stay on the back foot, Khawaja is better poised to handle express pace than those with a forward press. 

However, when Khawaja went for a drive, he was beaten all ends up. The speed gun measured it at 152 kph. The left-handed batter was done for pace. His bottom hand came off the bat and his eye closed momentarily like a Ferrari had dashed past him at full tilt.

In Khawaja, you are talking about a batter who had scored 84 runs more than anyone else in the first two Tests, facing 775 deliveries, again 429 more than anyone else. Wood left him dumbstruck with the last ball of his four-over spell. 

It was fast. It was furious. The average speed across the spell was 150.2 kph. 

It was tough to believe Wood was bowling for the first time in a professional cricket game in three months. 

His first spell read 4-3-2-1. There was only one wicket but Wood provided the England seam attack a beefed up look right from his first ball. He had done his job. Later, Wood cleaned up the tail, picking 2.4-1-5-4 in his last spell. It skittled Australia’s last four wickets within 14 runs. 

“On Day 1, we lost 6 for 20-odd,” the Australian skipper Pat Cummins mentioned Wood’s spell as one of the turning points in the game. 

5 feet 10 inches tall, the lanky right-arm seamer isn’t built like an ideal express bowler. He is also 33 years old. But he has a superpower. He clicks instantly. When he took 3/24 in the third T20I against Pakistan, he was taking the field after 11 months. On his IPL debut for Lucknow this year, playing after three weeks, Wood had a five-for to his name. Headingley was his first red-ball game since the Karachi Test in December 2022. 

He added two more wickets in the second innings, picking up Cummins and Mitchell Starc within five balls. Again, it tightened the noose on Australia when they needed contributions from their lower order.

At Edgbaston, England bowled 212.4 overs. At Lord’s, 202.3. Thanks to Wood’s impactful bursts, England had to bowl only 127.5 overs at Headingley. It also covered the absence of Ollie Robinson who injured his back in the first innings.

Wood replaced Josh Tongue in the XI who did decently at Lord’s. Like Wood, Tongue did the enforcer’s job, picking 5/151 at an average speed of 138 kph. The Durham seamer added a few more miles to it, bowling at an average speed of 144.7 kph, faster than any other bowler in the match. 

“When you've got someone who can come in and bowl 95 mph, it's a massive help,” Stokes said about Wood’s contribution. “It impacts the game, whether he's taking wickets at one end or they come at the other.”

Wood also altered his plan to be more effective. When bowling on placid pitches in Pakistan last year, he said: “I literally tried to whack the wicket as hard as I could.” However, after his exploits on Day 1, Wood talked about bowling fuller and exploiting the movement available through wobble seam. 

"For me, being able to move the ball today, it's really helped me, because that's not something that I've always done. I've tried to work hard on the wobble-seam, through speaking to the other guys and the bowling coaches.

“I'm 33, but I'm still trying to get better and better,” Wood said after Day 1. After this game, his bowling average at home has improved from 40.7 to 36.3. 

Not to mention, Wood’s contribution with the bat. He scored 40 off 16 balls in total. In a three-day finish effectively, the knock's worth could be weighed in gold. His 24 off eight balls changed the momentum post tea on Day 2. The momentum shift paved the way for England to reduce the first innings deficit from a potential 100 runs to only 26. 

In the second innings, he walked in with England still 21 away. He whacked 16 off eight balls and yet again, in the blink of an eye, he put England well in front. This time right in front of the finish line. 

“With the bat, he's a free spirit, and very clear in his mind. He walked out knowing how he wanted to take the game on, doesn't always come off but it gives you a better chance,” Stokes enunciated on Wood’s player-of-the-match award winning performance. 

You don’t say it about most bowlers but Wood is an outright entertainer. His rocket deliveries always keep you at the edge of your seat. And when you add his blustery batting style to that, he is a crowd puller. 

We are aware of Wood’s absenteeism from Test cricket for various reasons. Yet, only 29 Tests since his debut eight years ago feels surprisingly less. In 12 years, he has featured in only 70 first-class matches.

When asked about his participation for the Manchester Test, he said, “Will see I how pull up but will do everything I can to be ready.”

Falling over consistently in his follow-through, Wood bowls every delivery like it is his last. To come to think of it, we will never know when he will be playing next. Wood’s will always be a legacy unfulfilled. There will always be a feeling of what more he could have done if not for injuries and workload management. 

There's only of so much of him all of us can watch. Make sure you stop whatever you are doing when Mark Wood is in action. 

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