Us Indians are infatuated with pace. It’s just not about the cricket either. We’re always looking for ways to get done with things done without breaking a sweat—a task even tougher to accomplish when you factor in the humidity of the subcontinent.
But it suits us better when the going gets slow. The country’s bureaucracy has a fascination for delaying proceedings. It’s not always about corruption or incompetence either. It’s a reflection of our ethos.
If cricket’s a reflection of society, then, our fascination with pace bowling and expertise in slow bowling is symbolic of our country as a whole. We’re getting the fast men and women in our system because of the steps the BCCI has taken. But it’s not a skill that comes naturally to us.
Pace bowling isn’t the strongest suit of English cricket either. There’s something poetic about Anderson being the country’s best bowler. I like to imagine him as a representative of England’s countryside. He’s gentle in his ways. And doesn’t have any rights to maintain himself the way he has for so long. Yet, he remains the soul of his side.
That’s why we need to talk about Mark Wood.
England have pitches which are going to support gentle swing bowlers more than they’re going to support the spinners. It’s an accepted fact of life for most cricket fans. And then, Mark Wood comes along—there’s Jofra and Jordan as well.
Archer is a foreign expert who’s earned the right to play for England, whereas Jordan still depends more on his guile and accuracy than he depends on his pace. And that’s why Mark Wood becomes one-of-a-kind in terms of rising through the ranks and learning his trade at the international level.
I’m infatuated with pace. I’m infatuated with Mark Wood as well. His 3 for 31 in the 3rd T20I against India on Tuesday was stuff for the ages. He served up lots of stuff as well.
Now, some people might say there’s not much to write about when you write about T20 cricket. I’ve felt the same at times. But there’s no repulsion felt towards the format from my side, only admiration at the way it’s forced cricket to innovate. All the same, what does one game of twenty overs, twice, really tell us that matters?
Maybe it doesn’t tell us anything at all—but I believe it shows us what we want to see. And who doesn’t want to see Mark Wood?
I first paid attention to his existence when he elevated himself from the disreputable position of being another English pacer with wheels but no GPS, to being known as the fast bowler who might end up doing something significant after all.
It was 2019 at St Lucia, in the Third Test of the series against West Indies during what had been a wretched time to be a fan of English cricket. He ended up getting 5 for 41 in the first innings, coming-of-age at a time when his team was down in the dumps. But then, Joe Denly got a 69 in the second innings. So, who’s to judge the former’s performance on the basis of a single performance?
But I have followed him with varying levels of interest since then. The interest dialled itself up from ‘mild’ to ‘infatuation’ when he took another five-fer in South Africa during that series from 2019. And now here he was, playing in the 3rd T20I against India.
You know you’re fast when you make Rohit Sharma—the batsman who always seems to have an extra second—hurry up because the ball’s giving him a second lesser than usual to play a shot. Sharma ended up getting beaten on the bounce and lobbing a catch to a close-in fielder. The same genre of short-pitched bowling came off in different ways throughout the innings, but that was the gist of his efforts throughout these four overs.
And mind you, he didn’t do it all with just his effort. He’s learned to channel it in a way which surprises his fans as much as it surprises the batsmen. His accuracy has improved enough for him to be England’s first-choice all-out pacer in international cricket. I know, Jofra’s faster than Wood when he wants to be, but it’s the latter who consistently clocks in speeds above 150 kph well into his spells. It helps to have Morgan as your captain too. In his 100th T20I, he was as synchronised with the side’s bowling changes as he’s always been.
People want Wood in the Ashes side. He’s the one player who deserves to bowl England to victory on Australian soil for the first time in a decade. Would you deny him that? The charm of his demeanour, after all, is inversely proportional to the hostility of his pace. He’d make for a great Man of the Series interviewee if England actually win later this year.
I think I’m infatuated with Mark Wood. Please make it true love when the southern summer comes around.