Chris Waters: England’s thoughts fast-forward to Ashes as Mark Wood’s pace decimates hosts

Jubilant Mark Wood is surrounded by delighted England team-mates after taking a wicket on his way to figures of 5-41 as the West Indies were dismissed for 154 (Picture: Ricardo Mazalan/AP).
Jubilant Mark Wood is surrounded by delighted England team-mates after taking a wicket on his way to figures of 5-41 as the West Indies were dismissed for 154 (Picture: Ricardo Mazalan/AP).
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YORKSHIRE’S supporters know all about Mark Wood.

It was at T20 Finals Day in 2016 that Wood destroyed Yorkshire in the semi-finals, taking 4-25 to lead Durham to victory.

Joe Root could barely lay a bat on him, and the fast bowler dismissed Jonny Bairstow, Gary Ballance, Liam Plunkett and Tim Bresnan in a brilliant display that blew Yorkshire away.

Yesterday, on day two in St Lucia, the West Indies were similarly swept aside, Wood taking 5-41, his best Test figures.

In the eye of the storm, one of the most devastating to hit even a Caribbean region used to such winds, Wood hit speeds of 95mph.

Surely not even Harold Larwood in his pomp was much quicker than that, if at all.

Why, Douglas Jardine must have been salivating in his grave.

During the course of eight overs either side of tea Wood nearly, but not quite, changed the entire outlook of English cricket, which has gone from bright and sunny in Sri Lanka before Christmas to dark and gloomy in the West Indies.

Perhaps the biggest question, indeed, as the West Indies were bowled out for 154 in reply to England’s 277, the tourists following up with 19-0, was: where on earth has he been?

How come England did not unleash him earlier in the series, one that has already been lost in dispiriting manner?

This is just one of many questions for an England management and selection panel that seem to be making things up as they go along, bereft of any intelligent or coherent strategy, but this was not a day for sticking the knife in too much, but rather one for marvelling at Wood’s blood-curdling work.

After England collapsed in the morning from 231-4 overnight, losing 6-45, including 4-7 at the end, Wood ripped the heart from the West Indies, immediately finding rhythm and fluency on his first Test outing since May, his career blighted by a succession of foot and ankle injuries.

The hosts had actually advanced threateningly to 57-0, John Campbell twice lofting James Anderson for four over the top and once off his hip for six over mid-wicket, before a sudden, shocking English-style collapse.

It was all triggered by an atrocious shot from Kraigg Brathwaite, the stand-in captain for the banned Jason Holder, the former Yorkshire player skying spinner Moeen Ali to Anderson at cow corner in a needless and brainless act of aggression.

Next ball, with the batsmen having crossed, Moeen trapped Campbell lbw, playing across the line, with the stage now set for the central, compelling figure of Wood.

It took him five balls to make a mark, the 29-year-old having a driving Shai Hope caught in the gully by Rory Burns. Next ball the pair combined again – Burns this time taking an even better catch – when Roston Chase pushed feebly at a delivery too hot to handle.

When Wood then had Shimron Hetmyer caught at the second attempt by Root at first slip, with the England captain able to enjoy watching Wood this time as opposed to battling him on T20 Finals Day, the West Indies, at tea, were 74-5.

Wood claimed his first four-wicket haul in Test cricket shortly after tea, Root pouching another first-slip catch to dismiss Darren Bravo, at which point most Englishmen were starting to fantasise about concerned expressions in faraway Australia.

Whether Wood can produce such form in the Ashes this summer depends, to a large extent, on whether he can manage to stay on the field.

He is not quite blessed with a physique as robust as his bowling, and several times he slipped and fell over yesterday when delivering the ball, as if he was bowling much faster than his legs could carry him.

Incredibly, this is only his 51st first-class match – he debuted in 2011 – and how he would dearly love an extended run in the team.

A consistently fit and firing Wood would undoubtedly make England a better side, and there is no theatre quite like fast bowling theatre at its very best.

It was not a one-man show, though, at the Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium. Moeen, having edged meekly to first slip earlier in the day, claimed four wickets with his spin, adding the scalps of Keemo Paul, stumped by Bairstow, and Alzarri Joseph, brilliantly caught one-handed over his head by Stuart Broad running back from deep mid-off.

Broad nipped in with the wicket of Shane Dowrich, lbw on review, before Wood rounded things off by yorking Shannon Gabriel, his popularity evident when he was mobbed by jubilant team-mates.

Earlier Kemar Roach took 4-48 in England’s first innings, including Ben Stokes caught off a top-edged pull for the top score of 79. Jos Buttler failed to add to his overnight 67, bowled through the gate by Gabriel, and Roach bowled Bairstow off an inside-edge.

After Wood’s heroics, there was still time for England’s top-three to fail again, but, remarkably, openers Burns and Keaton Jennings survived until stumps.

England lead by 142, red-hot favourites to claim a consolation win.