Mark Wood’s last Test before this game was against Pakistan in May 2018

The spell that Mark Wood bowled for England on the second day of the third Test against West Indies in St Lucia was exhilarating and dynamic.

In returning to the Test team and recording career-best figures of 5-41, the Durham man not only helped the tourists bowl West Indies out for 154, but also showed the effect real pace can have.

For so long, we have been crying out for England’s attack to find some bite, some cutting edge, particularly away from home. Think of the last Ashes tour, where they lacked pace and penetration.

On Sunday, Wood reached 94.6 mph, the sort of speed that we have not seen from an England bowler for a very long time. You probably have to go back to Darren Gough, Steve Harmison or Andrew Flintoff to find an English bowler capable of such a fiery spell.

Wood’s stop-start Test career
Year Tests Wickets Average Strike-rate
2015 8 25 34.40 61.0
2016 0 n/a n/a n/a
2017 2 1 197.00 336.0
2018 2 4 48.75 105.7
2019 1 5 8.20 10.0

That is the sporting side to this story, but there is also a human element – the tale of a man whose international career has been plagued by injuries, who wasn’t even supposed to be on this tour and must have wondered whether his chance would ever come again.

Wood made his England debut almost four years ago, but this is only his 13th Test. He had not played in the longest form of the game since last May and was only summoned to the Caribbean after an injury to Olly Stone.

Would he have even been playing in this match had England’s results in the first two Tests been different?

But international sport is about taking the chances that are presented to you, something Wood certainly did in St Lucia.

I actually interviewed him a couple of days before this match and, during our conversation, he said how much he was hoping to play. He knew what an opportunity it would be.

He has had to be patient, to do his duty as 12th man and work hard in the nets – he had not bowled any overs in proper, competitive cricket since appearing for the England Lions on 8 December.

For that reason, you can say that there was plenty stacked against Wood when he came on to bowl, but he delivered a spell that had my new broadcast colleague Alastair Cook purring.

He looked good off a new, elongated run-up. He had good rhythm as he hammered up to the crease and delivered the ball with a graceful jump.

As Wood began to take wickets, not only were his team-mates right behind him, but the crowd were roaring him on too. He is a popular character both in the dressing room and in the stands.

Perhaps it was for that reason that Stuart Broad, who had just taken a wicket of his own, volunteered to come out of the attack so Wood had the opportunity to claim his maiden five-wicket haul against the Windies’ last pair. That was a lovely touch.

When Wood obliged, splattering the stumps of Shannon Gabriel, he left the field with the ball held high and a beaming smile on his face.

Looking to the future, Wood will probably wish that the Ashes series could start next week. As it is, England will need to manage both expectations and his fitness between now and the first Test against Australia in August.

Just because they have an unearthed a genuinely fast bowler, it does not mean he will succeed every time he pulls on the shirt.

Similarly, they will have been conscious of his past injury problems, particularly as he could be involved in the World Cup. It’s an interesting balancing act for coach Trevor Bayliss – will Wood be more effective in the bid to win the World Cup for the first time, or to regain the Ashes?

Not only that, but how will Wood be best employed when England do get him on the park?

If you have a bowler of such pace, should he be taking the new ball? Should he have a choice of ends? England clearly have a fast-bowling hierarchy in the shape of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, so there may have to be some decisions made there.

Whenever Wood bowls, Joe Root will probably have to be quite canny in how much he is used. To me, he should not be overbowled, but instead used for high-impact spells of no more than four overs at a time.

Yes, losing this series is a disappointment for England, but the re-emergence of Wood could eventually prove to be a huge bonus. Who knows, maybe one of the much-maligned top three could cement their place on Monday too.

It has been an exciting Test, with England playing like a side who have a point to prove. We have learned not to take anything for granted, but they really should win from here.

Jonathan Agnew was speaking to BBC Sport’s Stephan Shemilt


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