It was a bit of a surprise when Mark Wood didn’t take the new ball. Sure Kyle Mayers has the knack of striking in the first over but Wood is the X-factor in this Lucknow Super Giants’ bowling cartel. He is the X-factor in most teams he plays for. Seven runs off the first over. Delhi Capitals didn’t mind that. It is a reasonable start in their chase of 194.
But definitely, he is bowling the second over and sharing the new ball.
Not really, it is Jaydev Unadkat. Baffling, isn’t it?
No Mark Wood for the first four overs and Delhi breezed to 40/0. The perfect start.
And that is when KL Rahul threw the ball to his X-factor. Time for the thunderbolts.
Third legitimate ball of the over and Prithvi Shaw was bowled through the gate. Shaw holds vulnerabilities against balls moving in at a high pace. That is why it was surprising that Rahul let Delhi off the hook at the start.
Next ball, he blazed through Mitchell Marsh’s bat swing. Marsh is an excellent batter of pace bowling but probably took Wood a bit too lightly, going for an expansive drive on the first ball the moment he saw the ball pitched up. Yes, it sounds quite inexplicable. The ball was almost past him before he could bring his bat down. 147.8 kph, half a kilometer faster than the previous ball which got Shaw out.
At this point, Wood’s figures read 0.4-0-1-2. A marginal wide ball aside, he pouched two wickets before conceding a run off the bat. At the start of the over, Delhi had a 43% chance of securing a win on the Criclytics win predictor. By the time the over finished, they were reduced to 17%. A drop of 26% compounded the biggest game-changing over of the match. Delhi never recovered from that over. It wasn’t long before Wood added a third, removing Sarfaraz Khan.
That is Mark Wood for you.
The third T20I between England and Pakistan in September last year was his first recognized T20 game in 11 months - since the 2021 T20 World Cup semi-final. It came right after Pakistan had chased down 200 without losing a wicket in the previous match.
England thought enough is enough and drafted Wood in the XI for the third T20I. After his first two overs, his figures read 2-0-8-2 with Babar Azam and Haider Ali falling to him. INSTANT IMPACT! In his next match of the series - the fifth T20I - he was 2/3 after his first two overs. “I literally tried to whack the wicket as hard as I could,” he said back then.
You could sense the discomfort in the body language of the Pakistan batters facing him. Babar was out to him both times in an identical fashion. Generally a sound batter against pace (like Marsh himself), the Pakistan captain was out trying to play horizontal bat shots against Wood, only to get caught in the deep due to lack of control.
Owing to injuries and workload management, Wood didn’t play any T20 cricket for nearly 11 months in the time period mentioned above. And even after returning to the scene in the shortest format, he has played in all but 10 T20s in six months.
He has snaffled 24 wickets in these 10 appearances, averaging 9.3 runs per wicket at an economy of 7 runs per overs. Considering pacers from the nationalities of Test-playing countries alone, 39 bowlers have picked 20 T20 wickets or more. There are five bowlers with a better economy than Wood but no one comes close to his wicket-taking ability.
Pace is pace yaar is a hearty cricketing expression that lacks context. In modern-day cricket, pace is also a double-edged sword.
Pace with prolonged consistency in terms of hitting the right areas is what separates the wheat from the chaff. Mitchell Johnson is the peak example. When in control, he would terrorize batters for fun. Otherwise, he seemed like a fish out of water.
Wood has found his mojo in terms of the kind of consistency he wants to achieve. In these 10 matches, he has bowled 25% of his deliveries at a good length, 48.4% in the back-of-a-length region and another 10.4% are pitched short. That is 83.8% deliveries forcing the batter on the back foot.
A yorker has to land on the spot for it to be effective. The scope of error broadens when you pitch it short. Wood has exploited that to his maximum advantage, picking 21 off his 24 wickets from exploiting the good length or pitching it shorter.
“I felt on this wicket you're playing on two different surfaces from either end,” said the Delhi skipper David Warner in his praise for Wood after the game.
The pitch maps below are in sync with Warner’s words. The length at which the other Lucknow seamers were expensive, Wood was almost invincible. It exemplifies the value of pace when paired with consistency.
The scary part is that Wood derailed Delhi’s chase despite not bowling at full tilt. The conditions at Lucknow’s Ekana Stadium were wet and the 33-year-old seamer had landing issues after his first ball itself. “You could see the dew on the grass and it affected me. I fall even at the best of times,” he said while receiving the player-of-the-match award.
The seamer ended with only the second five-for for an England bowler in IPL, finishing with 5/14 in four overs.
None of his deliveries broke the 150-kph barrier which is surprising if you have followed Wood’s affection for speed. His second over in the aforementioned third T20I against Pakistan had all six deliveries in the 150s.
“I was trying to keep my strides short (due to the wet outfield). Was worried a bit about slipping but I will try to shrug that off next time,” he explained further.
The next time is a fair warning for the other teams. Lucknow just need to make sure that Wood remains fit. In hindsight, they now know they don’t need him bowling at full tilt to wreak havoc.
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