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Match Analysis

Mark Wood feels the ache of satisfaction after providing the speed that England need

Fast bowler back to Test cricket with a bang after proving he's not out of road yet

Mark Wood celebrates after England's win, Pakistan vs England, 2nd Test, Multan, 4th day, December 12, 2022

Mark Wood's six wickets included a priceless two-wicket burst before lunch on the final day  •  Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

On Sunday evening, Mark Wood sat in his room at the Ramada By Wyndnam Hotel in Multan worried.
Pakistan had 157 left of a target of 355 going into day four of the second Test, five wickets in hand and a composed Saud Shakeel unbeaten on 54. The pitch was playing truer with every compression of the heavy roller, losing turn and bounce as the match wore on.
The result was a coin-flip, though Wood feared Pakistan could have an edge. Not because of a distrust in his team-mates or his own skills. But, after 11 overs in the second innings up to that point, a reverse-swinging stunner to get Abdullah Shafique his one reward for them, he had never felt worse after a day's play. As ever the spirit was willing, and given the nature of his work, the body understandably was sore. But the tank was precariously close to empty.
Earlier that day, as the rest of the team left the field after 64 overs, boosted by Jack Leach's late dismissal of Imam-ul-Haq, Wood paused his trudge a few feet from the boundary's edge. There he met the physiotherapist who had brought a few bands and a medicine ball down with him. Wood ignored the apparatus and slumped to the floor. He was stretching out his hip, but who would have begrudged him a kip on the outfield at that point?
Less than 24 hours later, he was sat on that same spot again, just to the right of the England dressing-room as you face it. He looked decidedly worse for wear. Like a man who had been bundled into a washing machine and tossed down a hill: dishevelled, battered and a little bit confused. And yet altogether better for it.
"I'm absolutely shattered," he answered, the words tumbling out of his mouth like shopping through a torn carrier bag. The question: With three vital wickets in the final throes of an anxious run-chase, how did it feel to be responsible for a historic series win in Pakistan? A fair response, all told.
He had been on the field for all four days, sending down 32.5 overs of immense effort, backing up 2 for 40 in the first innings with 4 for 65 in the second. This was his first first-class match of any kind since injury once again struck - his elbow this time - during the first Test of the Caribbean tour way back in March.
Following a couple of elbow surgeries, Wood's competitive return came in the T20I series in Pakistan only a couple of months ago, then straight into a T20 World Cup before joining up with the Test squad for this series after a couple of weeks at home. That period back at Ashington was spent recovering from a hip injury sustained ahead of the knockout round of that tournament, meaning he arrived back in Pakistan without having bowled a red ball in anger. Even that moment took a while longer yet to come: he had to quarantine in his room at the Serena Hotel soon after arrival in Islamabad due to an illness brought from home. It was an issue unrelated to the virus that upended England's preparations for the first Test.
He missed the victory in Rawalpindi, but Liam Livingstone's injury, coupled with Ollie Pope's capability behind the stumps, provided a clean route back into the XI. From that point on, the next thing to figure out was how to use him effectively. Luckily, in Ben Stokes, Wood had a captain who knew him well.
Recognising his Durham team-mate and long-time rouser-in-chief had been exclusively on a four-over diet for the past nine months, Stokes utilised his quick in exactly those amounts. Of his 13 spells in the match, five were of four overs (the most he bowled in a row). Each asked something different of him: straight pace at the start, reverse-swing on days two and three, and a two-over burst of short balls before lunch that removed Mohammed Nawaz (45) and then Saud Shakeel (94) in the space of six balls.
That last bit was, ultimately, the game. Both left-handers looked at ease, dovetailing expertly for Pakistan's sixth wicket as Nawaz played his shots and Shakeel stayed level. Wood steamed in from around the wicket and got both caught down the leg side.
"What type of bowling does the batter not want to face at these times?" Stokes said, as he reflected on his decision to give Wood the opportunity to close out the session. "I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to be facing bowlers at 145, 150kph with 20 minutes left, even if I had faced as many balls as those two."
The message to Wood was clear: "Stokesy said to me, 'make a difference, change the game'." He obliged, turning a target of 65 to win with five wickets to spare into 64 with just three. Pakistan, deflated by the losses - not to mention the contentious nature of Pope's catch off Shakeel - emerged from lunch with vengeance on their minds. That soon went the way of Zahid Mahmood's off stump - flattened emphatically - as Wood picked up where he left off, this time on a fuller length to utilise what late movement was on offer.
"That little burst there is why you want Mark Wood in your team and why you want high pace," Stokes said, beaming at finally being able to call on him as full-time skipper, after his absence from the first eight games of his reign. "It's so, so valuable to have out in these conditions, especially when you've got the skill of Robbo [Ollie Robinson] and Jimmy [James Anderson] at the other end."
Stokes is right. High pace clutters the mind - neither Shakeel nor Nawaz should have bitten at those deliveries going across their bodies. High pace also makes up for mistakes: the collapse of 5 for 38 instigated by Wood ensured England's own slump of 5 for 19 on the morning of day three went unpunished.
His accuracy was also worthy of praise, and what underlines that most is that Monday's average pace was the slowest of the four days. It had descended from day one, when he averaged 93.4mph, to 87.7mph on day four. Not that you could tell, given the discomfort of those facing him, particularly when fending off deliveries angling for the armpit and, occasionally, head.
"All game I got my bouncer a bit too off-side," Wood said, recalling his similar barrages earlier in the match. "But in that spell, I got it right."
He was understandably emotional at the end of play. However much he believes in his body, bowling faster than any Englishman has before is a constant dalliance with trauma. Thus, each appearance comes with a sense of gratitude, never more so when it is a Test. Having missed 10 of England's 14 so far this year, including the entirety of the home summer, this is as much a return to savour as it is a statement from Wood. He's still here.
"My body might let me down," Wood said to Sky, sweat on his brow, cheeks somehow both ruddy with toil and pale with exhaustion. "But I want to keep coming back, I want to keep trying to play for England. There'll be one day when my body gives up and I can't do it anymore. But at the minute, I'll try my best to just charge in when the team really wants me."
With 27 caps now to his name, and his Test average getting closer to being on the "right" side of 30, Wood's six victims in the match mean he is now just 12 away from 100. There is more road to come. When he does eventually reach the end of it, even a stop-start career such as his has more to savour than most.
The 50-over and T20 World Cup wins. The winning Ashes dismissal in the summer of 2015. That 5 for 41 in St Lucia at the start of 2019, when he first felt like he belonged at this level and when seasoned observers reckoned they'd rarely seen a faster spell from an England bowler. The damned tour of Australia last winter when he was one of the few to stand tall. Now this.
Wood's body will ache so much more on Tuesday than it did on Sunday or Monday. At least, though, he will be soothed by the knowledge that, in bowling England to their first series win in Pakistan for 22 years, he has secured himself, and his team-mates, a permanent place in cricketing folklore.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo