Tagged with being England’s speedster, Mark Wood found success by bowling a slower, more consistent spell – Ben Jones suggests this could be the way to go for Wood in future.
Without Chris Woakes in this England ODI side, each player in the bowling unit falls rather nearly into a discrete compartment. David Willey is the swing bowler; Liam Plunkett the enforcer; Ben Stokes the reverse-swing exponent; and Mark Wood bowls fast. Without Woakes, who can perform all of those roles rather well, there is added emphasis on each of the other bowlers to deliver in their particular area.
In light of this, Mark Wood could have been worried. If his role is to be rapid, to put the fear of God into opposition batsmen, then he’s only notionally been delivering on that. He has been the fastest bowler in this series, but only by a small margin. Ranked by the fastest ball they’ve bowled in the last 12 months, Wood’s the seventh fastest bowler in ODI cricket, but a bowling average 53.69 in that time suggests he’s not putting that pace to good use.
For England, Wood’s performance today was a significant step up. Faced with Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, two of the world’s best opening batsmen, Wood’s powerplay spell gave away just 14 runs in his five overs, his most economical spell when he’s bowled that many overs at that point in the innings. He built the pressure, which paid immediate dividends for David Willey when he removed Rohit Sharma, and delayed dividends for Adil Rashid. Wood’s frugal opening spell was tight, relentless and unerring.
Yet this performance came in the match where his average speed – just 134.69kph – was the slowest he’s ever recorded in an ODI.
Essentially, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Wood’s record as a bang it in, intimidation-style bowler is poor; in ODIs, he averages 70.33 with the short ball. Yet he’s not typically a swing bowler, and that shows up in his record as well, his average with full pitched bowling still a substantial 42.90.
However, when he hits a “good” length, that in-between zone, his average drops to just 26.41. Wood is fast, but not devastatingly fast, not fast enough that he can ignore his pitchmaps. These numbers suggest that if he can hit that difficult length, he’s handful. But not if he can’t.
Today, that was certainly the case. 38.3% of his deliveries found that good length. Only twice in his last 27 ODIs has he hit that length more often. Alongside this consistency of length, he found an unusual amount of swing, 1.001° a degree of lateral movement he’s only twice exceeded in his ODI career. Wood wasn’t bowling with heat, but with consistency and swing. And he looked excellent.
Occasionally he reverted to trying to be a bang it in bowler. He got spanked for a bouncer in his eighth over by MS Dhoni, and his short deliveries had no more success than normal, going at 4.22rpo – normally a solid economy rate, but far in excess of his overall rate today. Yet this was a performance which felt a little like a penny-drop for the Durham man, the realisation that taking a step down in firepower could be beneficial, particularly in the bunfight that is keeping a place in this England ODI side.
This could be something of a landmark.. This was the first time where he has made a sizeable contribution without being a genuine wicket-taking threat. His top four performances, according to CricViz Bowling Impact, are ones where he’s taken multiple wickets, but he was England’s second most effective bowler even whilst taking just the one wicket.
If England can get all their fast bowling options fit for the World Cup next year, there is a degree of uncertainty about who they will select. Woakes, Stokes and Plunkett are likely nailed on, their performances over the last two years earning them that security. The final place will most probably be a shoot-out between Wood, Willey, the Currans and Jake Ball. Wood may feel, privately, that his USP amongst that group is his pace, but if today’s excellent, clinical performance has shown him anything, it’s that a dash more control goes a long way at this level.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.