Mark Wood made the choice to come early from the IPL because he believes he has “a real point to prove” in Test cricket. Despite his battles with injuries, the fast bowler wants to succeed in the form of the game he considers “the pinnacle” and said he had not contemplated focusing on white-ball cricket, where he is likely to be a key member of the side hoping to lift the World Cup on home soil next year.
Having won a recall to the Test team for England’s last outing, in Christchurch at the end of March, Wood then went straight to the IPL, playing in the first match of the tournament for Chennai Super Kings. However, after returning figures of 0 for 49, he was not selected again and spent his time bowling in the nets until a call from Andrew Strauss prompted a return to Durham.
Wood subsequently claimed a career-best 6 for 46 against Derbyshire and was named in Ed Smith’s first squad as national selector for next week’s Pakistan Test at Lord’s. Following three rounds of ankle surgery in 2015 and 2016, there have been doubts about Wood’s fitness for five-day cricket but he is feeling positive – “I’ve had seven months injury free now, which I’ve probably never had before” – and wants to fight for his place.
“That’s never even once crossed my mind,” he said, when asked about the possibility of preserving himself. “Any game I play for England I love it. When I was in the back garden as a kid it was never T20 or 50 overs it was Test matches. In my mind, all the best players were at Test level and that’s what I wanted to strive to. These days, the 50- and 20-over stuff is a huge part of the game so I’m delighted to be part of such a good team – we have an awesome one-day side – but the pinnacle for is still trying to get into that Test and I think I have a real point to prove.”
After a month of inaction in India, his trip to Derby was about “having fun” with a red ball back in his hand. Despite initially “thinking I’m miles away here”, after taking 1 for 91 from 29 overs in the first innings, Wood felt increasingly in rhythm and was rewarded by his first first-class six-for as reverse swing came into play on the final day.
Wood’s extra pace and skiddy angles have seen him long identified as the man to bring a cutting edge to the seam attack, and he believes he benefited from being given a licence to bowl short and at the body in his previous Test appearance – similar to the role fulfilled by New Zealand’s Neil Wagner. Having scored a maiden Test fifty at Hagley Oval, he is now chasing bigger wicket hauls for England.
“I need to get more wickets,” he said. “I need to be more consistent. Having the gameplan in New Zealand definitely helped because I knew the role they wanted me to play. Whether I got wickets or not I knew it didn’t matter because it was the role I was playing. Having a bit more of a specific role – whether it’s an enforcer or do something a little different – then even if I don’t get wickets I know I’m contributing.
“To be be honest I’ve got a lot to prove to the selectors, coaches, media, the fans because I’m a guy people probably had high hopes for and I’ve not done it consistently enough. An average of 40 is pretty average to be honest and I definitely want to lower that.”
On the state of his ankle, which required him to be rested from the one-day side in New Zealand, Wood described it as “decent”. “It’s okay, held together with a bit of Sellotape. We are all right at the moment and have managed it quite well over the winter. ‘Hopefully’ is the key word and hopefully I can keep it okay.
“There have been times when I’ve thought I’ll never be the same again, I’ll never play for England again and I’ll have to go into the real world. There have definitely been doubts but things I can hopefully overcome with more game time.”
As for his IPL jaunt, part of a record contingent of Englishmen involved in the T20 competition, his conclusion was: “Mad, but good. But mad.” It remains another arena in which he would like to prove himself in the future.
“I’m glad to be back,” he said. “It was a difficult decision and I was 50-50 whether I leave. Andrew Strauss rang me up and said, if you’re not playing, there’s real value in coming home to push my case and try to keep my spot in the team. I worked so hard trying to get back in the Test side. At the time I wondered whether it was the right decision but as soon as I got back and took some wickets, it was the right decision.
“I would have liked to have played more. It was hard going travelling every day and not playing. I was the only member of the England side who hadn’t been home for about seven months so that side was hard. I got why I wasn’t playing… I didn’t really set the world alight in my first game and it was always going to be difficult to come back in. I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to prove myself in that competition. To have one game and not do well leaves a bit of a sour taste. I’d like to go back and have one more crack at it and prove myself at that standard.”