Mark Wood revealed the call to include him in the XI for the fourth Test was made on the morning of day one.
With just three days between Monday’s finish in Port Elizabeth and Friday’s start at The Wanderers, England and indeed Wood himself were unsure if he could pull-up right for back-to-back Tests. It turns out they had little to worry about.
For the second time in a week, Wood offered runs, wickets and catches to put England in a commanding lead in the fourth Test at The Wanderers.
Another batting cameo of 35 off 39 following his 42 off 23 balls in the third Test helped England to a first innings score of 400. His three wickets, of Pieter Malan, Temba Bavuma and Anrich Nortje, along with his catch at point to remove Dean Elgar off the bowling of Ben Stokes, means South Africa rest wearily on 88 for six and with a 3-1 series defeat looming.
“Probably til the morning of game I wasn’t in the team,” Wood said. “I was a bit sore after the last game and hadn’t played for six or seven months or whatever it was. I put a lot of effort into that game and pulled up a bit sore. My side was a little achy from the game and that was the main problem from before. I had delayed onset muscle soreness in my legs. Just stiff and sore everywhere.
“On the morning of the game I spoke to the captain and coach and said if you want me I’m ready to go. I couldn’t guarantee them I could bowl 90mph in my fourth-fifth spell but I’m glad I made that decision as it’s gone well.”
Whatever worry there may have been on his speed was cast aside with the wicket of Malan. The Proteas were resolute into the 19th over before Wood cranked one up to 94.4mph that left the right-hander off the pitch and found his edge through to Jos Buttler.
It was the second quickest wicket-taking delivery recorded by an English Test bowler. The fastest, as it happens, was by a fellow Ashington quick and good friend of Mark Wood, Steve Harmison. He dismissed Glenn McGrath at Perth in 2006 with one registering 97mph according to CricViz.
That he was able to operate at such speeds in back-to-back Tests, he believes, is down to being “a bit older and wiser”.
“I’ve been through periods when I shouldn’t have played when I did. At least two Test matches that hurt my career which made me take a step back. So before the game it was just a case of being honest. I’ve worked really well with Chris Silverwood as bowling coach. He knows what it’s like. I’m not quite sure how it’s going to go. But I felt good in the warm-ups and I’m not quite sure how it’s going to go I’m ready to charge in for you one more time.” Charge in he did.
The two Tests he mentions are Australia at Lord’s in 2015 and South Africa at Trent Bridge in 2017. Both were the second of back-to-back fixtures. Naturally, he is wary of bigging his work up too much until he gets to the other end of this match. “Let’s not speak too soon. Only halfway through. But it’s pleasing that all the hard work behind the scenes. You’re looking at my body type and thinking I could snap at any minute.”
The best use of his time out with injury, or at least not being able to bowl, has clearly been his batting. Across his last two innings, he has 77 from 61 deliveries and an astonishing eight sixes. His favourite of the eight was a gorgeous thump over extra cover off Beuran Hendricks.
While has been doing work with Chris Silverwood, particularly against the short ball, he credits sessions with his father, Derek, and wife, Sarah who spent hours with him at an indoor facility in Newcastle.
“Sometimes with my dad, sometimes with my wife feeding me the balls on the machine. I knew we were coming here and it was a bit bouncy, so I was working on how I thought they’d attack me – either at the stumps or at my head.”
When pressed, he said his dad was the better of the two. His wife, though, has hit him a few times.
“She’s laughing telling me to get in line. She got me a couple of times, my Dad as well is particularly spicy but Silverwood is the worst because he laughs when he hits you. You think the coach would be more supportive but he just laughs, he’s still got a fast bowler in him I think.”