No.1 in Wisden’s men’s Test spells of 2023 is Mark Wood’s devastating 5-34 at Headingley which destroyed Australia to help England claw back in Ashes 2023 from a 0-2 deficit. Jo Harman looks back at a fiery burst of fast bowling.

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Wisden’s men’s Test spell of 2023, No.1: Mark Wood – 5-34

England vs Australia
3rd Test, Ashes 2023
Headingley, Leeds, July 06-09

Having lost a nipper at Edgbaston, Ben Stokes was desperate to unleash his trump card in the second Test at Lord’s but, following consultations with the medical team, he decided to err on the side of caution.

Mark Wood, who’d not played a red-ball match since the Pakistan tour seven months earlier, was apparently distraught, and his mood would only have darkened when England went 2-0 behind after a feverish tussle at HQ. Not since 1936/37 had a side overturned a 2-0 deficit to win the Ashes and criticism of Stokes’ ultra-aggressive tactics was slowly beginning to build. And so, when Wood eventually entered the fray, six overs into Australia’s first innings at Headingley after the visitors had been inserted, he needed to act fast.

England’s attack had looked one-paced in the series until that point and after Stuart Broad’s customary early dismissal of David Warner, the Aussies were cruising along at nearly five an over with the skies blue and the outfield lightning-fast. Following the months-long hype ahead of a series billed to be the most exciting Ashes for a generation, Australia were three good sessions away from having the contest all but sewn up.

Suddenly, with the introduction of Wood, the whole mood changed, as though someone had sat on the remote and put the game in fast forward. He clocked a hair-raising 96.5mph in his first over, with CricViz revealing that no bowler had delivered an opening over as fast and with as much swing since Brett Lee in 2005. His second was even better, twice beating the outside edge of Marnus Labuschagne, who could only grope at deliveries that had long since passed him. A third consecutive maiden followed before the breakthrough came: Wood flattening Usman Khawaja’s leg stump with the final ball of his fourth over via an inside edge. Having looked entirely unhurried in making 300 runs across the first two Tests, the southpaw opener simply couldn’t react in time to the 94.6mph thunderbolt. Wood’s opening spell read: 4-3-2-1.

Mitch Marsh’s assault tilted the game back in Australia’s favour after lunch before Chris Woakes – recalled to game-changing effect himself after being overlooked for the opening two Tests – got the breakthrough and Wood barraged his way through the lower order, dismissing Starc, Cummins, Carey and Murphy in the space of 13 deliveries to collect his first five-wicket haul in home Tests.

“When I’m at full biff, it feels like all my body’s going towards the batsman,” said Wood after his spell. “It looks like an awful position, but it’s almost like a catapult sling that, when you let it go, all the chinks in the chain fizz the ball out.”

He would continue to sprinkle stardust across the match: smiting 24 from eight balls including three mighty sixes as a first-innings collapse threatened to undo all his good work; ripping out Starc and Cummins in the second dig when Australia appeared to be edging out of reach; and, finally, joyously, sharing an eighth-wicket stand of 24 with his best pal Woakes to see England home and keep the series alive.

The 2023 Ashes gave us much to be thankful for. None more so than the sight of Mark Wood in full flight.