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Mark Wood’s spell on second day led to a sensational West Indian batting collapse and it might have revived Wood’s Test career……

One of the most exciting things for me to follow, during the Ashes 2015 in England, was an English bowler named Mark Wood. Neither did he give the impression of something special nor did he fit the prototype of a modern English pacer. But his deceptive pace, which clocked around 85 mph on average, caught my attention. He used to deliver from wide of the crease and brought the ball back-in-to the batters at pace. The Australian batters were pressurized by the Wood gave away wickets to big guns.

But after that eventful Ashes campaign, Wood would be an inconsistent campaigner. Lean-patches and injuries would create hurdles in his career. He did get his opportunities to cash in, but sadly, that deceptive pace was not evident. For every team, pace bowlers are an asset. Apart from skill and experience, the value of a pacer gives a team the extra-value. A genuinely quick bowler can not only trigger the fear-factor in the minds of a batting unit, but also can script a collapse from nowhere.  Keeping this in mind, England looked forward to Wood since that Ashes campaign, but he failed to unleash the magic.

Also read: England show resolve, at last

England lacked temperament and an x-factor in the bowling unit throughout the Test series in West Indies. While the hosts peppered the visitors with speed and barrage of short-pitch bowling, the likes of James Anderson, Stuart Broad or Ben Stokes; just could not deliver the balls at pace – well too much to expect from the old warhorses, though!

England decided to give Wood yet another opportunity. Even his best of fans would not expect anything special from Wood, but would invest faith in the experienced campaigners for the goods.

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Shannon Gabriel bowled fast, really fast in the morning session. The ball reached towards the English batsmen like cannonballs. Immediately, it resulted in a collapse – England lost their last six wickets for 46 runs. On this track at Saint Lucia, 277 is still a very competitive total. Even though the kind of start West Indies openers gave to their team, it seemed, England might have to grind under the hot sun yet again.

John Campbell shunned the idea of defensive display and started to play his shots. There were some crispy strokes, but it increased the chances of playing false strokes. Kraigg Brathwaite dropped the anchor as usual, but Campbell’s fluency was contagious – it prompted Brathwaite to attempt a un-Brathwaite stroke against the run of play. He decided to smack Moeen Ali by attempting a Twenty20-shot, which went high up in the air as James Anderson grabbed the catch in the deep.

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Then it was time for restless Campbell to depart, who was not sure how to play an Ali-delivery, which pitched full in-and-around leg stump and was trapped lbw.

The kind of discipline West Indies displayed throughout the series was absent. Perhaps, a bit of over-confidence overshadowed the solid temperament shown at Barbados and Antigua.

A devastating spell to relish

Wood started to bowl.

The run-up was smooth but not thrilling to watch. The jump at the popping crease before delivering the ball did not attract anyone, but as soon as he delivered the ball, he commanded each and everyone’s attention.  Each and every delivery had a touch of hostility as they were delivered with pace – pace, the much needed pace, which England missed in West Indies.

According to Cricviz, “Wood took two wickets in his first over, did not concede a run until his 13th ball and didn’t drop below 140kph until his 34th. This was the Mark Wood that people were calling for when they talked of England’s lack of pace during the Ashes; quick, hostile and taking wickets”.

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The deliveries to dismiss Shai Hope and Roston Chase clocked around 94.6 mph, while Darren Bravo’s guts were melted by with balls, which thudded into his body and prompted him to play a meek-shot. The dangerous Shimron Hetmyer was undone by a lifter and then, Alzarri Joseph and Gabriel got the taste of their own medicine.

Wood, who replaced Olly Stone, grabbed five wickets for 41 runs in his 8.2-over spell. It was his maiden 5-wicket haul in his 13th Test.

In Antigua Wood said, “I would never give up hope of playing Test cricket. Growing up it’s the pinnacle”. Certainly, he never gave up. Despite back and ankle problems, he kept on working hard and waited for the ultimate opportunity to prove his worth again. And also, in life, you need a slice of luck. Had Stone not been injured, Wood might have to warm the bench at Saint Lucia as well.

“There have been some horrible dark days with injury and things, with confidence and self-belief. I thought in my mind I was an England player but I hadn’t shown it. But today I feel like I have. The feeling of five was brilliant. The lads knew what it meant to me and I was emotional in the dressing room. It was a relief and I am so happy”, Wood said after the match.

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The tour to UAE with the England Lions really helped Wood to rediscover his potential as a menacing fast bowler, who would come on and bowl in short but hostile spells. Obviously, Trevor Bayliss had to step up and make one of his students to realise his true potentials.

“Trevor challenged me to go and show I was a step above the lads in the Lions and really set the bar high. In most the games I feel I did that and proved I was an international class bowler,” Wood said.

“I felt I was actually here on merit. I felt because I’d done well there [in UAE] it merited my spot being here and this time I wasn’t picked on potential, I deserved it”.

Hard work pays off and Wood is just another example, but to prolong the duration of your success one needs to understand the mantra of achieving consistency. Wood needs to be consistent to secure his place in England’s Test team. Otherwise, the accolades would disappear quickly like the morning mist.

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