Why Mark Wood Will Be England's X-Factor in the 2015 Ashes

Chris Bradshaw@@BradshawCDFeatured ColumnistJuly 1, 2015

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 25:  Mark Wood of England celebrates taking the wicket of BJ Watling of New Zealand during day five of the 1st Investec Test Match between England and New Zealand at Lord's Cricket Ground on May 25, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Ben Stokes stole the headlines during the recent Test series against New Zealand, but it's his Durham colleague Mark Wood who can be England's X-factor during the Ashes.

In many ways, Wood is a very un-English selection. His action is decidedly funky compared to the MCC Coaching Manual and orthodoxy is traditionally favoured by the England hierarchy.

Wood hasn't got many miles in his legs either. Since making his debut in 2011, the 25-year-old has just 26 first-class appearances and 89 wickets to his name. Oh, and he likes riding an imaginary horse in the outfield. Alec Bedser he ain't.

What Wood does have is pace and plenty of it. After a promising debut in a rain-shortened ODI against Ireland in Dublin, Wood provoked plenty of oohs from the Lord's crowd on his Test bow after topping 92 mph on the speed gun.

There was control with the ferocious pace too. As first Test wickets go, they don't come much better than Brendon McCullum.

WATCH: Mark Wood claimed his first Test wicket removing New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum: http://t.co/V8e2Wc81xB pic.twitter.com/Qei5Q2To3y

— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) May 23, 2015
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Perhaps most encouraging was the delivery that did for BJ Watling in the second innings. Pitched just short of a length, Wood found some extra bounce as the Kiwi wicketkeeper gloved it to Jos Buttler behind the wicket.

Pace and swing are the Durham novice's primary weapons. England have been crying out for a bowler who can do something on flat pitches with the old ball. It's early days, of course, but England may have found their man.

The closest comparison to a former England seamer is Simon Jones whose star flashed brightly across the cricketing skyline before flaming out prematurely through injury.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - MAY 31:  England bowler Mark Wood celebrates after dismissing New Zealand batsman Martin Guptill during day three of the 2nd Investec test match between England and New Zealand at Headingley on May 31, 2015 in Leeds, England.  (Photo by S
Stu Forster/Getty Images

Jones has been impressed with what he's seen from Wood. In an interview with ESPN Cricinfo, the former Glamorgan man said, “I really like his approach, it works for him and I hope people don't change him. He's got good skills for a fairly young lad.”

What's been so refreshing about Wood is his seemingly carefree attitude. Some England players of recent vintage have given the impression that representing their country was an ordeal to be endured rather than being something to savour. How many players would be showing their best dance moves while fielding? Or maybe he's putting down a very early marker for Strictly Come Dancing?

Wood hasn't just survived the opening stages of his international career, he's looked like he's thoroughly enjoyed playing on the biggest stage. Of course it's one thing to do that against the gentlemanly New Zealanders, quite another against the ugly Australians.

Plugging away on a flat pitch against the likes of David Warner, Michael Clarke and Steve Smith could test the spirits of any fast bowler. Wood appears to have the character to thrive at the top, though.

Don't mistake playing with a smile on his face with being uncompetitive, though. Wood has already fired an opening verbal salvo in Shane Watson's direction.

Speaking to fellow Ashington native Steve Harmison on BBC Radio Five Live (per the Daily Mail) Wood said, “I’ll certainly stand up for myself if the Australians have a go. I won’t be taking a backward step, but I’ ll still be trying to have some fun.”

The biggest cause for concern for Wood this summer will likely be fitness. After bursting on to the international scene at Lord's, Wood's pace was down in the second Test at Headingley which followed just days later. Given the packed Ashes schedule, his workload will need careful handling.

Just a couple of months ago, the name of Mark Wood was unknown to all but the most ardent students of the county game. England followers will be hoping the Australians will become familiar with Wood and his imaginary horse over the weeks and months to come.