Mark Wood’s return to the England Test side was brilliant to see.
It’s been a long time since we saw such a spell of fiery fast bowling and it was both hugely enjoyable and hugely effective.
Wood took career-best figures of 5-41 in the first innings of the final match in the West Indies this week, blowing the hosts’ batting line-up wide open and setting up a much-needed victory in St Lucia.
The Durham man made his debut in 2015 but this was the first time that we’d really seen his full potential. As a bowler who suffered with injuries myself, I have a lot of sympathy for his situation.
After the match Wood spoke of his dark times and being stuck on the treatment table. Flitting in and out of the side is frustrating and difficult. He’s a very popular member of the team, so to see him firing on all cylinders and grabbing his chance was great.
Wood came back hungry to prove what he could do and gave it everything he had. He reached 94.6mph with one delivery and his spell showed just what a difference speed can make. West Indies batsmen were backing away and couldn’t handle him.
Having taken four quick wickets, Joe Root kept him on for a bit too long and England’s captain will need to become better at using him. Wood should be brought on for sharp three to five-over spells so he can keep his speeds up.
Now he’s shown what he offers, England need to work out how best to manage him and fans need to understand what to expect.
The way he bowls means Wood will always go for runs – he’s a strike-bowler, not the man to stem the run-flow. He also won’t be able to bowl 95mph every day, but if he’s used carefully he can keep his speeds consistently high.
Half the battle as a fast bowler is staying fit, so a balance needs to be found between getting overs under the belt to maintain rhythm and making sure the body gets the valuable rest it requires. I hope they wrap him in cotton wool to ensure he’s ready for this summer’s Ashes.
However, as Olly Stone’s stress fracture which prompted Wood’s call-up showed, injuries are a part of the game. If another does strike, Wood’s spell in St Lucia has set a precedent which means he might find the next return easier.
Wood showed once again the value of variation. A seam attack of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes, for example, is fairly similar; although Wood is also right-handed, his action and extra yard of pace provides more balance. He poses different questions to the opposition.
On slower, drier pitches, especially in the subcontinent, Wood, alongside Stone and potentially Jofra Archer, offers that X-factor which can crack open the batting order. For that reason I think there’s always a place in the side for him.
Despite making his debut four years ago he’s still only played 13 Tests, so there is undoubtedly more to come as his confidence increases and skills develop.
The West Indies series was unsuccessful and highlighted many issues for England, but at least it ended on a positive note with the re-emergence of a dangerous bowler.