Mark Wood: Going All In
For a moment, cast your mind back to 2015. New found England, new found lease of life, new found players and one of those is Mark Wood. He bowls at the speed of light (well sometimes) and he is one of a number of bowlers who possess the mythical ‘golden arm’- often picking up key wickets when it counts. To left handers he starts it wide from over the wicket and it jags back viciously, to right handers, he hurries them for pace taking the outside edge. Sadly he gets injured and in his lay off he loses his place in the side. 2017 rolls around and Wood is back, he’s fit, England now know how to manage him better and now he is back supporting the ODI side and once again proving his value. Everything England do is based around Wood. In the ODIS he delivers with a breathtaking spell of death bowling he wins England the game vs South Africa. He’s back. Mark Wood gets injured. Starting to see the pattern? Then in 2018 something changed. An ankle operation has seemingly alleviated Wood of many injury struggles and inspired by a well documented chat with Michael Holding, Wood decides to lengthen his run up. Since then England have been keeping him in bubble wrap and Wood himself has slowly developed into one of the world's high class all format bowlers. And this year England needs Mark Wood more than they ever have.
Stone, Wood, Jofra. Englands three musketeers. The hope and future. Finally after much experimentation- see Steven Finn, Jake Ball etc- Joe Root had the keys to the gates of hell and was going to be able to unleash it on those fabled fast quick tracks down under; who’d want to be a batter hey? Jofra injured. Ok well we have the other two anyway so that’s no worries. Stone injured. Oh well it will all be fine Mark Wood only plays tests and ODIS really anyway and we can rest him for most of our ODIS regardless. Mark Wood has become Englands second best T20i bowler and made himself both undroppable and Englands attack leader whilst simultaneously showing enough to keep him as Englands primary pace option in tests. Shit. England are in a hell of a pickle. A T20 world cup and an Ashes are approaching and Mark Wood quite simply has to be fit and firing for both but why exactly?
Test cricket is not exactly Mark Woods forte but it’s not surprising that England value him especially as of right now. Comparisons to Steven Finn are not just confined to the simplicity of the speed gun; instead both are bowlers who are constrained by the complex ebbs and flows of bowling far more than most. When they are on song and the limbs start flailing and bodies are hurled to the floor they are borderline unplayable- it must be noted that Woods lows are not as bad as Finns but they are harder to watch; the monotonous barrage of short balls is every bit as painful as you’d imagine and having to observe a man whom we all adore bereft of ideas is tough tough viewing. Unlike Finn though, Woods inconsistency is counteracted by other less measurable factors. For starters Wood is clearly valued by the setup as being one of their few genuinely quick options (arguably Wood is Englands fastest ever). Root and Morgan clearly both appreciate and adore him and this is often highlighted by how quick they are to reintegrate Wood into the side. Not only this but The immense highs are something to behold-his spell of reverse swing against the West Indies was one of the best of the past decade. Wood is also a ball of pure energy and excitement about the game and the way he goes about it is infectious for his team mates. When you as a bowler see your team mate giving 110%, falling over, getting back up and starting again with a smile on his face you cannot help but feel compelled to give your all as well. On a flat deck in Sri Lanka with nothing in it Wood steamed in for a 7 over spell eventually getting his reward with a beautiful reverse swinging in ducker and England were rejuvenated. He may not be the world's greatest but he is instrumental to England’s test fortunes, he is the bowler who they turn to when nothing is happening.
White ball cricket has been far more Woods cup of tea, especially ODI cricket. Not in the Jofra sense of immediate world domination, nor in the Chris Woakes sense of slowly developing into one of the best in the world. Wood has always been a fairly simple bowler: he bowls quick, in the middle overs and sometimes towards the end and he hits a heavy length and doesn’t go for too many runs whilst still taking wickets. Wood will never have a great average in ODI cricket but what he will do is produce performances when it really counts. Figures of 1-49 off of 10 overs in the world cup final don’t leap off the page but Wood was battling a side strain, only got hit for 4 boundaries (3 4;s and 1 6) and removed a dangerous looking Ross Taylor. There’s no magic, no mystical mind boggling swing or a late dropping slower ball, but in the age of reverse sweep shots for 6 etc etc a bowler like Wood is extremely valuable to any white ball side.
Of course white ball cricket is quickly becoming an outdated phrase as the two formats drift further and further apart and in the past year Mark Wood has developed into an integral part of Englands World Cup plans. South Africa at the start of 2020 was a bad tour for Wood in the T20 format. Conceding 11 runs an over is never ideal and in the third and final game he took the new ball and nearly had to be taken out of the attack after bowling more than enough beamers. Fast forward to the Australia series in the summer and Wood was only going at 7.83 an over and along with Jofra Archer established himself as one of Englands new ball specialists and their middle over maestro hitting a heavy length and bowling as quick as he possibly can. Against India he went at 8.06 whilst also confirming what we already knew; Mark Wood is superb up top, brilliant in the middle as ‘the splice-man’ but he struggles at the death. Pace is his biggest asset but he cannot nail his yorkers consistently and his stock ball is often dispatched faster than it appeared by the best in the world. However in that series England realised how good Mark Wood truly is. Pure pace, pure aggression, pure joy- this was Mark Wood claiming his throne as the fans favourite and as one of the best about.
So England need Mark Wood fit and firing and in an attempt to summarise all the above we must evaluate a few performances. England need a bowler to go hard on the flat Australian tracks when there may be some reverse swing on offer; see the aforementioned Sri Lanka test. Ok but what about when the track is bouncy? See the West Indies five for. Fine but what if England are fighting to win a test match on the final day? Then I would simply turn you to his 4-54 on the final day at the Wanderers. Even more than this all of these performances have been since the start of 2019 and in this period it has not been Woods ankle that has troubled him rather a side strain (which he played through the World Cup with making it demonstrably worse) and a few back problems but those happen to all quick bowlers. Wood is a superb bowler and one who England are putting all their chips on to deliver this year. England need Mark Wood and thankfully Mark Wood bloody loves playing for England.