The Ashes: Mark Wood stresses the need to pair pace with precision in Australia
Mark Wood is England’s last remaining express fast bowler at the Ashes but he pointed out the fluctuating fortunes of Mitchell Johnson is a reminder that precision will be as important as pace.
Injuries to Jofra Archer and Olly Stone have left Wood as England’s only quick capable of regularly breaching 90mph although he has had a recent scare in the same left ankle that has given him multiple problems in his career.
Wood is among several members of England’s T20 World Cup contingent heading Down Under on Monday and is well aware of the expectation on his shoulders, even if he believes everyone in England’s attack will have a role to play.
He highlighted the case of former Australia left-arm fast bowler Johnson, who terrorised England in 2013/14 after going at more than four an over in a modest showing in 2010/11, as a reason not to get too carried away by speeds.
Wood told the PA news agency: “If you bowl high pace but you scatter it all over, it doesn’t matter to any high-class batter, they’re going to smack it. You have to have pace but have a fair amount of accuracy as well.
“If you play three fast bowlers, like me Jofra and Stoney, if we’re all going at four or five an over, that’s not helping anybody. You need other lads that have different skills. We need a varied attack.
“For me, pace is going to be good in Australia because some of the wickets should help pace bowling. I’ve got to make sure that firstly I’m bowling fast and second I’m bowling accurately to fit in that group of varied bowlers.
“Mitchell Johnson bowled high pace and England scored a lot of runs in the 2010/11 series, so if you’re off then it can go, but if you’re on like Mitchell Johnson in the next series then it can cause havoc.”
The peak of Johnson’s career unquestionably came in 2013/14 with 37 wickets at a phenomenal average of 13.97, a moustachioed menace bristling with hostility who made life extremely uncomfortable for a vaunted England top-order.
Wood is known for a cheerier demeanour so when asked whether he can employ a similar role to the one Johnson had, the 31-year-old replied: “I’ll have to grow a pretty mean ‘tache and start snarling! But I’m not sure that’s me.
“I would say I like to have fun and enjoy myself. Just be the smiling assassin and I think that’s the way that suits me better.”
The last couple of years have been the best of Wood’s career since lengthening his run-up. As well as winning the 2019 World Cup, he has averaged 25.5 in nine Tests since a breakthrough display in St Lucia versus the West Indies.
But having been in and out of the side, Wood feels his best may yet still be ahead of him and consistency seems to be his target ahead of an Ashes series, starting in Brisbane on December 8, where he could leave a lasting legacy.
He said: “I’ve put in a couple of good performances but over my career nowhere near enough. I’d say since I’ve changed my run-up I feel a bit more better and more of an international bowler.
“I’ve got to just keep striving to get better, to prove people wrong, to prove myself.
“I’m trying to get better and trying to make myself into a definite Test match player instead of just a one that’s in and out.”
England may have feared the worst when Wood reported discomfort in his ankle ahead of the T20 World Cup, but he was able to play in their final group stage match and semi-final defeat to New Zealand after a pain-killing injection.
He revealed the issue – diagnosed as bone bruising – was in a different part of the ankle to the area that has plagued him in the past and reported the pain is gradually receding.
He said: “Usually you have an injection and it gets better straightaway whereas this has been a proper slow burner, something that might take two to three weeks to heal properly.
“It’ll play on my mind until it fully settles. To be able to play in a semi-final which is a huge game and still bowl over 90mph gives me huge confidence. Even with pain, I can still play and hopefully perform with pain.”
And he is ready to push through any pain barrier to help England’s cause, adding: “It’s a huge series for me as a fast bowler and the age I’m at I might never get to go to Australia again.
“I’m a proud Englishman so I’ll be giving everything I can to win and, past that, you don’t know what’s going to happen. If that’s my last series for England then hopefully it’s a winning one.”
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