How do Lucknow keep the fiery Mark Wood on the field?
It wasn't even a legal delivery, a wide down the leg side, but for Lucknow Super Giants (LSG), their title hopes almost hinged on its whereabouts. As Mark Wood steamed in and unleashed his wrath on the turf, he got this ball to rise too steep on the short-statured Prithvi Shaw and ended up giving an extra.
The wide wasn't the focal point for LSG, however, it was the fact that Wood had almost slipped in his follow-through after jamming his frontfoot onto the popping crease. The moisture spread all over the deck with dew under lights gave the Lucknow franchise their most nervy, nightmarish moments in an otherwise easy win over Delhi Capitals (DC) in their IPL 2023 opener.
To think of it: the Super Giants had waited two long years for Wood to hit the delivery stride in their colours, and here he was, undone by a slippery patch just when he was beginning to find some rhythm in his very first outing. A lead pacer, with the pace and hostility to nail the hard lengths at all stages, going down in the very first game is the last of the scenarios that LSG would've envisioned with Wood. They were ultimately saved, but those few moments, jeez.. the entire think-tank would've had their hearts in the mouth. The pacer could sense it himself.
"Today, obviously, you could see the dew on the grass and that was, you know, affecting me when I landed. I fall over at the best of times. So it was no good for me. Maybe I'll have to invest in some long spikes or something," Wood said after summing up his prowess with a match-winning 5/14 versus the Capitals.
"Today I was trying to keep my strides short because it was so wet. Usually, I come off a longer run-up now, which has served me well for a couple of years. That's what I feel at ease to do, to charge in and try and let the ball fly. But when you are worried about the front line and you are thinking 'oh, I'm not sure if I am going to slip here or not', it does affect you. So I need to try and clear that out of my mind the next time I come here."
How Super Giants can swim over Wood's injury clutter
The peak anxiety of the moment would've given English fans following the IPL their biggest deja vu, for that is exactly how it has been with Mark Wood throughout his career. The England speedster has spent more time off the field than on it. Several injuries and bumps on the road have derailed his journey. The ankle, the knees, the hamstrings and the back, Wood hasn't had a body part unjolted by the rigorous, most strenuous task that is fast-bowling.
The 33-year-old delivered possibly his most challenging Test match spells in Australia and West Indies and then missed almost an entire year of cricket with his elbow surgery last season, for example. Each time England may have felt they have cracked the jackpot with him, the Durham pacer has broken down and dented his team's plans irrevocably.
This is a seamer who inspires more confidence to send a peach past the world's best player than his body ever holding up consistently for it. Mark Wood is like life: he entices you towards things you dare to desire, but just when you're convinced and starting to believe, it's snatched away from you. A towering force let down by a brittle physique, he has come to symbolise false dawn. One bad bump at a time.
To manage such a phenomenon is a task in itself: how many overs shall he bowl in the nets? How much energy and pace is to be reserved for that particular ball against the opposition's best player? Should he bowl that third over in a fruitful first spell? If he does, at what pace shall he rip these six balls out of him so as to still execute the plans without breaking down? What if that extra short ball gets the better of him and then he can't retain any threat about his full pitchers? And even if goes unscathed, would he be able to recover smoothly the day after and do it all over again in the next match after all that strain?
All these questions would stare at the Super Giants throughout this IPL season. After all, it took five years since his maiden IPL game for him to take a wicket in the league, and that ended in a spectacular five-wicket haul. The persistent threat of losing their most prominent seamer, though, would keep the KL Rahul-led side on the edge, forcing them to manage him with utmost care. The word 'care' here may entail resting and rotating their express quick from time to time, potentially giving him breathers every third game or providing him a mid-season break before ultimately unleashing him at the business end.
It helps that Mark Wood has a guiding light with similar body of work in thwarting injury threats available to him in LSG's famed bowling coach. These could be key concerns but ones that are right up Morne Morkel's ally. Morkel has been there, done it, as an abnormally tall seamer who played a consistent, high-pace enforcer, to have overcome multiple serious injuries and played 86 Tests for South Africa. "Morne helped me. He has been really good with me," Wood acknowledged the man's presence within the LSG camp as a true luxury.
Morkel or no Morkel, to keep their valiant enforcer on the field on a regular basis, LSG would need every ounce of help that could claw itself their way, and some real good fortune. We seldom acknowledge it, but the human body was not designed to send down a leather ball at speeds in excess of 140 clicks. That fast bowlers are still able to propel past these physical limitations, build long careers and and give us memories to savour shall never be taken for granted.
Mark Wood is the most real-life glimpse of it. The brittle but most human fast-bowler!!!