By Chris Stocks
It is more than three years since Mark Wood made his debut for England in a one-day international against Ireland in Dublin.
The fact that match was ultimately abandoned could be seen as a metaphor for an international career that has seen the fast bowler plagued by injury.
Indeed, Wood has played just six Tests since helping England win the 2015 home Ashes series and even though he is more established in the one-day team, he understandably still feels unfulfilled at the highest level.
“With England I still feel I have to prove myself because I have not really backed it up at times,” he said. “In the one-day side I feel pretty settled but in the Test match arena I still feel I have something to prove. At times I put too much pressure on myself.”
Wood’s three operations to correct a chronic injury to his left ankle have, at various times, threatened his very career.
The latest flare-up meant he missed out on selection for last winter’s Ashes tour of Australia and even though he regained fitness with the Lions and was fit from the third Test onwards, the 28-year-old believes missing that 4-0 defeat may have been for the best considering he made an impact in the one-day series that followed to help England win 4-1.
“I was ready,” he admits. “But maybe it was a bit of a blessing I didn’t play. I’m just being honest. Maybe, if I had, I might have not hit the ground running in the one-dayers. From what I gather, our attack wasn’t as quick as theirs. So by the time the one-dayers came round, I was ready to steam in and take some heads off. I was so ready to go.
“I’m not saying I wouldn’t have done well if I’d played in the Ashes but if it hadn’t gone to plan it might have meant I didn’t start the one-dayers so well.”
The good news for Wood and England is that after being rested for the recent T20s he is fit, firing and ready to play a full part in the second half of the summer against India, with five Tests following the Royal London one-day series that started at Trent Bridge yesterday.
“I was genuinely rested this time,” he says. “Since November and the Lions I’ve played non-stop which was pretty good for me. I didn’t play much at Chennai in the IPL but that’s not because I was injured.
“Two weeks of rest with the T20s was an opportunity for my body to settle ahead of the ODIs against India and, hopefully, the Tests. With five Tests close together, they have to have their eye on that.”
Wood cut short his spell in the IPL with Chennai to return to Durham and stake his claim for a Test place for the series against Pakistan.
He was dropped for the second match of the series at Headingley but it is Test cricket that still remains Wood’s priority.
“Test cricket is still the pinnacle for me and the moment I let that dream go I might not be the same cricketer,” he admits.
Wood played just one IPL match earlier this year but his time in India did give him the unique experience of sharing a dressing-room with MS Dhoni, his captain at Chennai.
Dhoni, now 37, remains an integral part of his country’s white-ball teams and Wood speaks in awestruck terms about the Indian.
“Dhoni was a guy that I thought was so cool, calm and collected on the TV – and he literally is that guy,” says Wood.
“He’s the coolest guy. He’s a good guy to talk to. He had quite a dry humour – quite a funny guy.
“His knowledge of the game is amazing. I remember there was a game we played and he said, ‘right, look at the field here – that means the bowler is going to go yorker, but he will not nail it, next ball he will go slower ball then he will try yorker again’. He went four, six, four from those three balls and they were exactly what he said. Incredible. There were times when we needed 70 off five overs and he would nurdle one and we would be like ‘what are you doing?’. His thing is ‘I will take it deep and the longer the game goes on, the more nervous the bowlers get, when they miss I will hit it for six’. Imagine having the confidence to say that?”
Wood will hope to stop Dhoni in his tracks during the ODI series and, beyond that, he will aim to finally fulfil his potential in Test cricket.
A nation will surely be willing him on.
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