Mark Wood’s whole-hearted performance in the Ashes garnered a lot of praise, but England soon desperately turned the hype into something important: “wickets and wins”.
Australia has shone on Wood over the past few weeks, with his ability to repeatedly cross the 90mph barrier and deal a major blow to a team that has mostly been overtaken when it sees his stock soar.
His naked numbers tell only half the story – eight wickets of 37.62 – but the identity of his victim is the rest. Wood has beaten Manus Labouchagne three times in 17 balls since becoming the world’s No. 1 batsman and also has the best key men of Steve Smith and David Warner.
But he wasn’t content to console himself with the warm words of pundits and a few candid cheers from the home fans.
He was looking for tangible returns when he lined up for the day/night Test in Hobart on Friday.
“Personally, I’m happy with my effort, but when you play for England, it’s due to the effort,” he said.
“You should give everything you have every time. I have given 100%. This is my last big push trying to keep my pace and give it to the team. Playing the game everything is fine but I pursue It’s victory and wickets, so that’s my priority.
“I’ve been picking up the pace but not getting the wickets I really want. Now I have another chance in this game to put something in the right column at the end.
“I want to improve my game and prove myself against the best players. It’s always special when you get a big wicket – Smith, Warner, Manus – they’re all top players. “
When asked if he had a “moral victory” over his head against those key rivals, his answer was swift and forceful.
“Not really, because we keep getting hit,” he said.
“If I had taken those wickets and we had won the game, I would have said yes, but now we are not, so it is important to turn things around.”
Wood, who turns 32 this week, is likely to play his final Ashes Test in the next five days given the rigors of bowling at a fast pace.
If so, he will leave with depressing memories that he will hope to rectify when Australia hosts the Twenty20 World Cup later this year.
“I certainly don’t want to feel like I did in this series anymore and I’m disappointed in the locker room,” he said.
“It’s not a good place. So I’m going to the T20 World Cup to win, and in the last Test, we’re going to win here too. We didn’t do well this trip, but we had a chance to stand up and show some character.”
England will debut Kent wicketkeeper Sam Billings as cover for the injured Jos Butler and could also recall Rory Burns to replace the badly out-of-control Hasib Hamid.
Ben Stokes is set to continue as a professional hitter after battling a side strain and the decision will be made by Jonny Bairstow’s injured right thumb. He’s clearly unwell, but having just wrapped up a fine century in the Sydney Test, may be reluctant to step aside. Ollie Pope stood by.
In the bowling department, Ollie Robinson and Chris Walkers are set to return in place of spinners Jack Ritchie and 39-year-old James Anderson.
Australia axed Marcus Harris in the final Ashes Test, but captain Pat Cummins insisted the opener was not over.
Harris has been at the top of the charts, averaging 29.83 points per game in seven innings against England in a half-century of singles.
Travis Head reclaimed his middle spot after missing a Sydney test with Covid-19, while substitute Usman Khawaja beat two in that match. After a century of making himself unable to fall, Harris is naturally the loser.