For most of his 12-Test career, the idea of Mark Wood has been better than the reality. He’d never taken more than three wickets in an innings and his 30 wickets had cost more than 40 each.
Even in one-day internationals where his contribution has seemed more tangible his average is almost 50.
There’s a cliche about never being a better player than when you’re not in the side, and no player has fitted that more perfectly than Wood. The tantalising promise of Genuine Pace combined with lengthy and frequent injury absences is an intoxicating combination before you even factor in the fact the man owns an imaginary horse.
Today, Mark Wood was the Mark Wood people have always hoped Mark Wood would be. By the end of his first over he had taken more wickets than Sam Curran managed in the first two Tests. By the end of his first spell – understandably if terrifyingly lengthened by Root well beyond what felt like safe stress on the fragile Wood ankles – he had 4/34.
Eight-over spells are not the way forward for Wood and Root, who had a much better day in the field, must take care. Wood said after the day’s play that he bowled two overs too many in that spell striving for a five-wicket haul and by the end of it you were watching through your fingers.
No harm done, though. And he duly returned after a much-needed break to york Shannon Gabriel and complete that maiden five-wicket haul at the highest level. It had started to look like it would never happen.
But it wasn’t just about the wickets or the numbers in the stats. It was the thrill of it. England fans have watched their team done in by searing pace so often and so rarely been able to enjoy it with roles reversed. Andrew Flintoff had been the last England bowler to reach 95mph, a number Wood hovered around throughout his thrilling, game-breaking pre-tea burst.
Wood himself has said he feels in the best shape since the summer of 2015 when he was part of England’s Ashes victory, and at last he was able to get himself on the park and show just how good he can be for real and not just in his and our dreams.
It is of course just one spell in one game in a series already lost, but this was far too exciting for such dreary level-headery. He has at the very least placed himself firmly in the Ashes equation. Plus he scored an all-run four from the first ball he faced with the bat, so he has now pretty much completed Test cricket.
Someone who did that years ago was Stuart Broad, and England’s great comedy cricketer wasn’t about to let some Durham upstart upstage him without a fight. A low-key celebrappeal was vindicated on review before the great man held a truly ridiculous one-handed catch at mid-on to give Moeen Ali a fourth wicket in what was another significant contribution with the ball.
While Wood and Broad stole the show it’s worth remembering It was Moeen who triggered the Windies collapse from 57/0 to 154 all out. Or rather it was Kraigg Brathwaite, who inexplicably decided to slog the off-spinner to long-on. John Campbell had made yet another assured 40-odd, memorably dispatching James Anderson over the ropes with a Gordon Greenidge tribute pull, but again went no further as he fell lbw the ball after Brathwaite’s brainfade.
Moeen’s batting has fallen off a cliff, but his bowling has never been better. Since returning to the side last summer after an absolute nightmare tour of Australia he now has 41 wickets in seven-and-a-half Tests at 22.63. Sadly he’s averaged only 18 with the bat in that time, so still falls short on the Official All-Rounder Metric.
He earlier made just 13 as England went over in a heap this morning, tossing away yesterday’s hard graft in losing their last six wickets for just 45 runs. But Keaton Jennings and Rory Burns ended a magnificent day’s Test cricket with 10 overs that passed more quietly than they or England’s middle order could have dared to hope.
Jennings took the bulk of the strike and looked quite literally okay. Early days, but the knowledge that pretty much whatever he does this is his last Test innings might just have a liberating effect. It won’t mend a fundamentally broken technique, but it might just clear a cluttered mind and allow him to achieve something pleasant to remember his Test career by tomorrow.
But this was not a day to lament a Test career ending, but to celebrate one finally, thrillingly getting started. “Today I feel like an England player,” Wood said afterwards. In the best possible way, he didn’t look like one.
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