Mark Wood's brilliance with the bat that closed the gates for South Africa
Mark Wood averages 20.52 with the bat in Tests and in 14 innings, has a highest score of 32 not out. Only once in these 14 innings, he survived more than 50 balls. He is not a genuine batsman and unsurprisingly came out to bat at number ten in the second innings of the first Test against South Africa at Lords.
But when he batted, he did something that no other English batsmen dared to do on the fourth morning of this Test. He went for the slog sweep against Keshav Maharaj even though his previous two attempts were risky and almost cost him his wicket.
In the first attempt, the ball took the top edge and landed just ahead of JP Duminy who was following it valiantly from mid-wicket. During the second attempt, the ball spun so much that the bat was continents away from it.
It was a day four pitch that was crumbling fast and Maharaj, a left-arm spinner, was turning the ball away from the batsmen at a dangerous angle. In such conditions and with two previous failed attempts, Wood still attempted the slog sweep for the third time.
In his third attempt though, Wood belted the ball from the middle of his bat and the red cherry disappeared over mid-wicket for a four.
This positive intent wasn’t reflected by any English batsmen on the fourth day. But Wood, playing in this team solely as a bowler, with an average of 20.52 in Tests, breathed intent from the moment he came to the crease and meant business.
After dominating the Test for three days, England resumed the fourth morning with a cautious start. The duo of Cook and Ballance had to play the patient game in the first half an hour but scored only a few runs.
And then suddenly, the pitch became a landmine and the Proteas bowlers found their mojo. Morne Morkel dismantled the defences of Cook and Ballance while Maharaj picked up the prised wicket of Root. In no time, England’s middle order batsmen, who were enjoying the pleasant morning from the comforts of their dressing room, were standing at the crease facing some deadly bowling by South Africa.
England’s famed middle and lower order succumbed to the pressure, the tricks of pitch and some crafty bowling. From one for 139, the home team was wrecked to eight for 182. Within 93 balls, England lost seven wickets for 43 runs.
The shocking batting collapse ignited hope and excitement in the South African camp and the visitors for the first time in the game, had the momentum in their favour.
The lead was of 279 runs and the match, although in England’s grasp, looked open when Wood came to the crease to join Bairstow. Importantly the momentum was with South Africa.
Wood negotiated Maharaj for two balls before lunch and when the game resumed, he scored a boundary off the first ball against Morkel.
The Durham batsman carried his positive intent against Maharaj as well. The deliveries which pitched on the stumps were played with caution while the ones that pitched outside off stump were approached aggressively.
There was plenty of rough outside off stump and the turn was uneven. Few balls turned so much that at times the slip fielder caught the ball and not the wicket-keeper while some deliveries came in straight with the angle.
All this made no impact on Wood as he went for the cut shot on short balls and drove the fuller ones. He knew, defence in this situation would result in nothing and to regain control of the game, aggression was his only option.
His batting in the 84th over was the best of the lot. Maharaj kept pitching the ball on the fourth and off stump, inviting the drive. Wood, on two occasions, drove the ball to the covers, playing with the turn. It was dangerous, but it was done with such perfection that it looked as though Wood would do it even when if he is blindfolded.
In the same over, he played a sweep as well, asserting complete dominance over the spinner.
From one end, Maharaj was unable to upset England’s number ten batsmen while from the other, Morkel peppered him with the short ball. But again Wood came out unscratched playing the pull shots without any trouble. And suddenly, the pitch looked easy to bat on and there seemed to be no help for the bowlers.
Wood accumulated boundaries through slog sweeps, square cuts and pull shots. The partnership added 44 invaluable runs with Wood scoring 28 of those. But most importantly, the pair denied any wickets to the South African bowlers for 52 balls. Through his positive batting, Wood brought back normalcy to the contest and ensured England were once again in the driver’s seat.
In the 85th over Kagiso Rabada came into the attack and dismissed Wood with a short delivery. The English batsman went for a pull shot but ended up making a mess of his stumps. Wood departed after scoring 28 runs from 32 balls.
Finally, a wicket arrived for South Africans but by that time the lead had swelled to 323 runs, momentum was back with the home team.