If you ever need a reminder of Pakistan’s fast-bowling culture, a quick glance at the honours board of five-wicket hauls in ODIs at Karachi’s National Stadium provides it. The first three names engraved read as follows: Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar.
“They are guys I grew up watching,” Wood said. “I look up to them a bit so if they give you any praise, you know you must be doing something right. I value their opinion. It seems like this country produces a lot of fast bowlers and when you look at the pitches, their skill level has to be really high to get wickets and they’ve got that deadly pace as well. They have a mystery about them that makes them deadly.”
Wood spent the first two games of the series on the sidelines as England take a cautious approach to his comeback from double elbow surgery, but found himself studying Pakistan’s modern-day crop of fast bowlers in a bid to pick up some insight into how to bowl on the low, skiddy surfaces that have been served up.
“I feel that when teams come to England, they’ll look at how our bowlers bowl and learn,” he said. “You get a feel for bowling the right length and I noticed that the Pakistan bowlers were getting a lot of wickets ‘bowled’ from lengths that would not be a ‘bowled’ length in England. It was back of a length, and the ball was skidding through.
“I knew my length could be half a yard shorter and it would still cause problems. I literally tried to whack the wicket as hard as I could from back of a length and some were going through hip-high, some were going through head-high. Last night, I could really let it fly and my margin of error was a little bit bigger because of that.”
His first wicket on his return was Babar Azam, caught on the deep-third boundary by Reece Topley while slashing at a second successive short ball. It was his first wicket since cleaning up Lanchester CC’s Cam Metcalfe when he made an unsuccessful attempt at a comeback in club cricket for Ashington in July, and his first in an England shirt since dismissing Kraigg Brathwaite in the Antigua Test in March.
“Mo [Moeen Ali] told me: ‘I need you to be aggressive here,'” Wood said. “We’d spent the game before not bowling any bouncers. That was it. I let it fly. I was trying to bowl fast, really. It could have gone either way: they could have smacked me, but we got a couple of wickets. I just tried to charge in and make something happen.”
The wicket prompted pin-drop silence from a sold-out crowd. “I was cheering so I didn’t notice,” he said, laughing. “It was loud, proper loud. Babar just walks out to warm up and they go mental. It’s crazy for us English people because obviously it’s not our main sport but here, it is. It means so much to so many people here.”
Wood is 32 but a relatively inexperienced T20 bowler – Friday night was his 41st game in the format – and is still teaching himself how to stay “level” after games. “When I have a bad day, I’m disappointed, but I’m not, like, down in the dumps, he said. “If I had a good day then, look, it’s a good day, but I could easily have gone for runs.
“He [Babar] could have cut that for six and all of a sudden, I’ve gone for four and six in my first four balls and I’m under pressure. I loved it. I enjoyed it so much, being back out there for England and I felt really happy to get them wickets. If I can bowl quickly and try and help the team that way, that’s what I’m going to try and do.”
Wood is unlikely to play in Sunday night’s fourth T20I, suggesting that he arrived in Pakistan expecting to feature once in Karachi and twice in Lahore as England look to ensure he arrives in Australia fit and fresh ahead of next month’s World Cup. He admitted that he felt “rank” after his four overs on Thursday night and the next challenge will be backing his performances up.
He hopes to be part of the Test squad that will tour Pakistan in December, having had a taste of the McCullum-Stokes era when he trained with them before the third Test against South Africa, and will take a red ball in his kitbag to Australia. “If they want me, I’ll be ready to go,” he said.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98