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Ind vs Eng 1st Test – Mark Wood – England trial by spin no longer a foregone conclusion

It was only as England were walking out to defend the 231 target they had set India in the first Test at Hyderabad that Ben Stokes informed Mark Wood he’d be opening the bowling, as he had done in the first innings. The catch? He would only be doing so for one over.

Wood was not all that surprised. He was the only seamer in the attack, and bowled just two overs in his opening stint on day one. It was part of a broader plan concocted in the lead-up to the series to use the seamers as a point of difference. Wood’s extra pace and ability to reverse-swing the ball would be in bursts, with the spinners doing the bulk of the work.

It was vindicated as England’s four spinners took 18 wickets in the match, with Tom Hartley starring with a match-winning 7 for 62. Wood admits the micro-spells – his eight second-innings overs were bowled in splits of one, three, three and one – took a bit of getting used to.

“When we were at the ground, he said probably one or two,” Wood said on his instructions from Stokes. “I mean, I thought I may not even open the bowling second innings. But it was like ‘one over; that’s it’.

“So that was a bit weird. Especially when the captain says you’re going to bowl one over with the new ball and it was a bit like, right, I’ll practice one over with the new ball.

“Very rarely would you think you’d bowl one over and then be off. But weirdly I trust what he says. One over? Right, okay, I’ll give it everything for this over. And then he said ‘rest’ and I’m not annoyed. Like, I get it, we’re going to spin now. So it’s just a bit different.”

The Durham quick went wicketless, finishing with match figures of 0 for 62 from 25 overs. By contrast, India’s star quick Jasprit Bumrah took six wickets, including 4 for 41 in the second innings which featured a hellacious spell of reverse-swing.

Nevertheless, Wood enjoyed the lone role, even if he missed the company of another seamer. And overall, he regarded it as a success given the bigger picture.

“Bumrah didn’t do me any favours by bowling like a genius,” Wood said. “That was tough!

“It was a bit odd, a bit weird at times. Usually at points during the game I’d think ‘I might bowl here’ but the spin is doing the damage.

“I said to Jimmy [Anderson] that I found it more bizarre that I didn’t have anyone to talk to. I was sort of working it out as I went along. Usually if Jimmy is bowling a spell he can say to me ‘this worked well’, or ‘what about this?’ You are talking to the captain and not really knowing how it’s going to go.

“It’s like, yes, that ball reversed, let’s try this, so that was probably the only thing that was different. I’m disappointed that I didn’t get any wickets but not really fussed, because the team played amazing. One of the great games that I’ve been involved in.”

England will travel to Vizag on Tuesday 1-0 up ahead of the second Test which begins on Friday. Their last tour in 2021 also saw them take the lead before India switched up tactics and conditions, leaning hard on their superior spinners to eventually triumph 3-1.

This time, however, they might go a different route. England effectively nullified Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel, particularly in their second innings of 420 scored at over four an over. Wood anticipates a reaction from the hosts and believes the team are prepared for whatever comes next.

“It could, yeah,” Wood replied, when asked if India might switch things up. “I don’t know what they will produce. India have got the potential to produce any wicket here. I’ve played in World Cup games and IPL games where it’s seamed, flat pitches, spinning wickets. They have the potential to do any wicket they want.

“But now, we’ve given them something to think about. It’s not a foregone conclusion that we are going to turn up here and they’re going to spin us out. Ollie Pope has played a fantastic knock, they’re now going to have to go analyse, like we would do if things didn’t go well, and analyse how they are going to try and combat that.

“We’ve won one game, it’s a hell of an achievement, but I don’t think we need to get too far ahead of ourselves. Don’t build this up now and say, “ah we’re going to win”. It’s the same again. Go into the next game with the same belief, same process and hopefully get the same result.”

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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