Wood eager to resume speed-gun rivalry with Archer

By Sports Desk January 11, 2020

Mark Wood is nearing full fitness and is keen to reignite his speed-gun rivalry with Jofra Archer on England's tour of South Africa.

Durham paceman Wood has not played since the Cricket World Cup final in July, having powered through a side strain to bowl at 95 miles per hour and help his country win the trophy.

The 30-year-old, who also underwent knee surgery during his time out, bowled 35 overs last week and said he will be ready for the third Test in Port Elizabeth, though he could be held back until the final match in Johannesburg.

When he does return, and with James Anderson ruled out for the rest of the series due to a rib injury, Wood wants to resume his competition with Archer.

"I do like the idea of the two of us operating together in a Test match," said Wood. "As long as he's not at mid-off asking me if I'm just warming up when I've bent my back.

"Playing alongside him did spur me on so maybe it will help. We have a friendly rivalry over the speed gun. In the World Cup when I put one up on the speed gun that was quite quick I'd just look over to Jofra and give him a little wink. Then he'd do the same to me.

"In the World Cup final I knew that I'd pipped him. I was clocked at 95.7 miles per hour and he was 95.6 miles per hour and as we came off the field and into the dressing room I was dying to tell him.

"I said to him as he walked in, 'Jofra, I've got you! I've done you on the speed gun!' and he strolled past fresh as a daisy and looked me up and down with an ice pack on my side, an ice pack on my knee and an ice pack on my ankle and just said, 'Yeah, but I think I'd rather be me.' I was like, 'Yeah, fair enough mate'.

"Deep down he's trying to prove that he's the meanest, toughest fast bowler out there. And so am I. We both want each other to do well, but we both want to be the quickest guy on show. But he's more talented than I am."

Wood believes Archer and Chris Woakes are ahead of him in the pecking order but finally feels comfortable with his position in the squad.

"I'm not even in the team at the minute but I feel much happier within myself," he says. "I feel I'm an England cricketer rather than just someone that's always pushing to try and get into the team. I feel a slightly different cricketer to what I did before.

"I have the World Cup and the St Lucia Test [when Wood claimed his maiden five-wicket Test haul] under my belt. The West Indies was a huge trip for me. I really felt I was in the last chance saloon; I'd had a lot of injuries.

"I have felt that if I get fit then there's no reason why I can't do that again. The St Lucia Test is lodged in my mind as one of the best days I've had. If I can replicate that I'll be pretty happy.

"And confidence is a massive thing. Now I know that I can do it. There's been games where I've played for England where I shouldn't have played and that's affected my record and my confidence.

"With those good performances and having some success under my belt, it means that I can go into rehab knowing how it feels when it's good.

"It's not just potential now. I know I can perform. I know now I can deliver if called upon."

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    Wood was instrumental in England taking control of the series finale on day two in Johannesburg, hitting an unbeaten 35 as part of an 82-run stand with Stuart Broad - the highest 10th-wicket partnership at the Wanderers - to push the tourists to 400, before taking 3-21 with the ball as South Africa slumped to 88-6 in reply.

    The seamer was not even going to play in the match, but more elbow issues for Archer meant Wood was included after making his case to Root.

    "Probably until the morning of game I wasn't in the team," Wood told a media conference.

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    "I spoke to the captain and coach and said, 'If you want me, I'm ready to go.' I felt good in the warm-ups and I said, 'I'm not quite sure how it's going to go but I'm ready to charge in for you one more time.'

    "I couldn't guarantee them I could bowl 90 miles per hour in my fourth and fifth spell but I'm glad I made that decision and it's going well."

    Wood and Broad took the fight to the South Africa attack after England had slipped to 318-9. Broad struck four sixes and Wood three in a confidence-sapping spell for the hosts.

    "I did a lot of work behind the scenes at Newcastle's indoor centre. Sometimes with my dad Derek, sometimes with my wife Sarah, just feeding me the balls on the bowling machine," Wood explained when asked how he has managed to adapt to the pace and bounce of surfaces in South Africa.

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    "You'd think the coach would be more supportive, but he's still got a fast bowler in him I think."

    South Africa will resume on day three with just four wickets in hand and needing another 113 to avoid following on as they did in the third Test.

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    England are on course to secure a series victory in South Africa after the hosts' problems with the bat continued on day two of the fourth and final Test in Johannesburg.

    The tourists resumed on 192-4 with captain Joe Root and Ollie Pope each well set at the crease but, though they both reached their half-centuries, Anrich Nortje's first Test five-for had England looking at a relatively underwhelming first-innings total.

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    After following on in the third Test in Port Elizabeth, South Africa are in very real danger of having to do the same in the series finale, with 12 wickets falling in the day.

    Such dominance by the ball looked a slim prospect when Root and Pope stretched a partnership worth 35 at the close on Friday to 101, their respective fifties reward for an aggressive start to the day.

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    South Africa were unable to wrap up the tail quickly, however, and were instead frustrated by an incredible stand between Wood and Broad, who took the fight back to the hosts in some style and needed just 27 balls to bring up the 50 partnership.

    Wood, fresh off his 42 in the third Test, hit three sixes in his unbeaten 35, while Broad struck four maximums in his 43, which was ended when he skied Dane Paterson to Pieter Malan to finally bring the innings to a close.

    That last wicket was barely celebrated and South Africa's response provided little for the home fans to cheer. 

    Malan was the first to fall to Wood with 29 on the board as he was done for pace by the seamer, edging into Buttler's gloves, before Rassie van der Dussen went for a duck when Ben Stokes snared a fine catch off Sam Curran.

    A dreadful shot from Elgar saw him flash Stokes to Woakes, who trapped Du Plessis lbw for three. The under-pressure South Africa captain is without a Test fifty in his last 10 innings.

    Quinton de Kock reached stumps unbeaten on 32 but excellent catches from Stokes and Joe Denly gave Wood the wickets of Temba Bavuma and Nortje, the latter's dismissal proving the final ball of another dismal day for South Africa.

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