Is Mark Wood the bowler England are missing?

Following his appointment as England’s new head coach, Chris Silverwood announced that the team’s long-term plan was to win back the Ashes in Australia in two years’ time.

Silverwood called for the Test side to bat longer and to be more patient with the ball. However, to even compete with Australia on their own turf any Test match side needs an abundance of one thing; pace bowling. Both Mark Wood and Jofra Archer have the ability to bowl over 90mph. 

Due to this, despite years of performing at the highest level, it would seem that one of Jimmy Anderson or Stuart Broad will need to be dropped ahead of the 2021 Ashes series. As a result, England must be ruthless and begin making sure that Wood, Archer and Chris Woakes are bowling as much as they can before they travel to Australia.

In Port Elizabeth, the location of the third Test, it seems most likely that Wood will be fielded ahead of Woakes. Both teams seem to believe that the pitch is going to offer some reverse swing, meaning England will want Wood’s extra pace. Equally, Port Elizabeth classically doesn’t offer much bounce, which can only aid Wood’s skiddy style.

At Port Elizabeth, Wood undoubtedly will be rusty. His last delivery for England was in the World Cup final back in July, a 6-month absence from international cricket. Expecting the Durham man to come in and rip through the Australian order is unrealistic, but he still has the ability to contribute. If the first two Test matches are anything to go by, the pitch will be reasonably flat and only begin to offer movement of the ball once cracks begin to develop in day three or four. 

Due to his pace, Wood will hit the pitch hard and make batsmen uncomfortable. He will be able to get a wicket when Broad and Curran aren’t able to. Thanks to this, Wood will be a valuable asset in Port Elizabeth.

However, if Joe Root mismanages Wood, he may struggle in the third test. Fast bowlers like Archer and Wood are more effective if they are used in short spells: five or six overs where they aim to bowl as fast as they can, followed by a sustained rest, fielding out of the way of the action. In the first test, Archer bowled a total of 36 overs in the match, more than any other bowler. In New Zealand, Archer bowled 46 overs in one innings, with his pace dropping as low as 82mph at times. If Wood is bowled in this way, he will struggle to maintain his high speed whilst also risking injury.

Due to his extended injury history, Wood needs to be protected. As a result, Root should deploy the 30-year-old sparingly, removing him from the attack if his pace drops significantly below 90. Used like this, Wood could be a huge contributor in the third test and also in the future for England. 

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