To him, it can be argued any other bowler’s run-up could look ungainly. Perhaps, the only bowler who can get millions of hits on YouTube, people burning data just to watch a man run in with a ball.
No one has been quicker than Wood at this T20 world cup. At an average of 92 mph, accelerating to tournament’s fastest with a 96 mph thunderbolt once, he didn’t think he could be doing this at 32. “Never did I think that I’d be able to bowl that speed,” Wood reflects. “Even two years ago I wouldn’t say I’ll be able to get to 96.” Without Holding, Wood has written in his book, it couldn’t have eventuated.
“Fast bowling is hard work as it is. You don’t want to make it harder by fumbling to the crease. You have to get everything right to be fast, everything has to be going in the same direction down the pitch towards the batsmen – the head, the arms, the body, the feet, the spring-off and follow-through. Wood wasn’t doing it, then.
Hard-fought Test match 🏏
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“Look, if a fast bowler is thinking about how he is running in, how he is holding his upper body, the strides, or any other trait while running, the focus isn’t where it should be. You will tighten up, fumble, and not be at your best position at point of release. When you are rhythmic, fluid, you are going to use everything perfectly – from your body to the ground forces, and you can put your full mind and body into the ball. At the batsman,” Holding says.
Not that Wood listened to Holding right away. “He would tell me later that he was a bit stubborn, then. And I can understand. Changing something that you are accustomed to isn’t easy. You can think “oh I am hitting almost 90, why change and mess up?”
In 2020, on a tour of South Africa, at Johannesburg, where Wood would take out nine South Africans in the Test, including a five-for in the first innings, to bowl England to a memorable win, he would have another long chat with Holding. Gratitude and then an admission of mistake.
“I wish I had listened to you earlier Mikey,” Holding recalls him telling. “But I was stubborn, didn’t want to change what was working. But once I did it, I can see the results for myself.” That result in the South Africa series changed Wood for good. No longer was he a doubter. He had worked with the bowling coach Kevin Shine to increase his run-up, as Holding had suggested, and found himself yards quicker.
Holding shares what he told Wood. “I always tell fast bowlers to imagine themselves as an aircraft – watch an aircraft at the airport. How it builds gradually, speeds up, and flies off smoothly at point of take off – for a fast bowler the take-off is the release. What you do at release with your wrist, fingers is of course important but what you do before that – the run-up – is also vital.”
Holding hastens to point out that he doesn’t mean a bowler shouldn’t sprint in during run-up. “The great Malcolm Marshall would sprint in and beautifully at that. But have you ever seen him look uncomfortable or anxious? That’s what I mean. And that’s what I felt Wood was doing, almost forced perhaps by how short his run-up was.”
In the second half of his career, Holding would cut short his extremely long run-up. “Yes, I did but it was still longer than most others! I cut short but not to a point where I felt un-relaxed.”
Wood missed the last T20 world cup, hit by an injury but luckily, for him, the pace has increased on return.
“I actually enjoyed the break in a way. It was frustrating to miss the last world cup, was gutting. I haven’t changed massively but it was a mind shift. I haven’t changed much in my bowling action. Just the confidence and belief. I have been in and out of the game. Confidence grows when you play a few games in a row,” he says in the BBC Podcast: Good Pace for Radio.
He then specifically talked about the world cup performances. “If there is a short boundary, like it was against Sri Lanka, I tend to go a bit wider. But you also have to mix up. At the top of my mark, I am committed. I know what I am going to bowl. You can’t be middled in the run up. You get confidence in death bowling when you do well but you need clarity at the top of your mark. I know India will have plans to how to go against us at the death.”
In a recent chat with The Telegraph, Wood nailed down what makes him bowl fast despite a mediocre height and not-so-smooth action. “It’s a mixture – energy, a bit of athleticism with the fact that my action transfers energy quite well. If you look at my action it looks awful on my ankle and stuff, but actually there’s a lot of stuff in there that comes through really late. So it’s a bit like a catapult in a slingshot. There’s elements with the braced front leg on my body, my energy’s kind of in the forearms and then my head fires through which then allows my chest to come through. So all my body’s going forward, but my arms are still back and as my arm comes through that’s when the pace comes … You know as soon as the ball’s left your hand, literally within a millisecond – that’s a fast one.”
Holding’s jazzy run-up has made many salivate. Some even attributed, almost subconsciously, to his race. It makes him bristle. “Even our bowling. It was as if they thought, all we needed to do was run up and bowl fast or short or whatever. That’s what irks me the most. I tell them to go check the scorebook: how many were lbw, bowled, caught in slips or whatever. It’s as if they don’t want to credit our thinking. I have never seen more intelligent and crafty bowlers like Andy [Roberts] or Malcolm. As far as my run-up goes, I would put it down to my long-jump training in younger days. Athletics, hurdles, everything I did was rhythmic. You had to be smooth, you had to sprint and you could not cross that white line in the long jump. That’s why I hardly ever bowled a no ball in my life,” Holding says.
All adjectives about his run-up feel inadequate, though. Does he ever, on a rare moment of narcissism, hit YouTube? A laugh, then that voice rolls over, “I don’t look back. That’s for people to watch and judge.” Nothing to judge, Mikey, just unadulterated relish.