Jun 24, 2020
Andrew MillerUK editor, ESPNcricinfo
- Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England’s historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate – it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
Mark Wood believes that he turned a corner in his career when he last faced West Indies in a Test match, at St Lucia in February 2019, and says that the memories of his command performance in that contest could have a bearing when the two teams meet again at the Ageas Bowl next month.
After an injury-plagued start to his Test career, Wood had not even been a part of England’s plans for the Caribbean 18 months ago, but was called up from the England Lions tour of Australia when Olly Stone succumbed to a stress fracture in the first week of the tour.
And though he played no part in England’s two series-losing defeats at Barbados and Antigua, Wood made up for lost time in startling fashion at the Daren Sammy Ground, unveiling a new more grooved run-up to reach speeds in excess of 95mph and claim his maiden Test five-wicket haul.
And though a side strain sustained in the World Cup final ruled Wood out of last summer’s Ashes, he proved that St Lucia performance was no one-off with another ferocious display against South Africa at Johannesburg in January, where he sealed England’s 3-1 series win with his second Player-of-the-Match performance in three Tests.
“”It really gave me confidence going forward into the World Cup and into South Africa so, yes, it probably was my consistent quickest,” Wood said of the St Lucia spell, in which he claimed four wickets in the space of 23 deliveries on the second afternoon of the match. “I felt in a great place, mentally and physically and I still look back on that performance with fond memories.
“I wish I’d changed my run-up sooner,” he added, having previously employed a long-jumper’s sprint-start that put undue pressure on his joints. “That one five-wicket haul, that gave me a massive boost. It sort of calmed me down, where I’m not trying too hard. I had the belief before, but I was frustrated I had not showed people how good I could be, and to get that five-for really allowed me to kick on.
West Indies dished out plenty of chin music of their own in sealing their series win, not least through Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph and Shannon Gabriel, who looks set to be drafted into the full squad after recovering from an ankle injury. But Wood’s pace topped the lot, and just as he recalled the discussions about Mitchell Johnson in the England dressing-room ahead of his maiden Ashes series in 2015, so he expects Jason Holder’s men to have his performance firmly in their thoughts this summer.
“I think it’s natural,” said Wood. “We had a big chat [about Johnson] before the 2015 Ashes so in a way, it’s actually quite nice to think they might do that about me, though it’s a bit weird. It proves that they do rate me as a cricketer and they are I concerned about what I could bring.
“It does give me confidence as a bowler knowing you’ve done well against that team. I think that is normal in any work environment; if you’ve done well previously, you thrive off that experience and use it to your advantage. That’s what I’ll be trying to do again if I’m selected.”
However, Wood might not be the only 95mph bowler lining up against West Indies this summer. It was Jofra Archer’s elbow injury that gave him his opportunity in South Africa earlier this year, and now that Archer has reported a clean bill of health, there’s every chance that the pair could be united in a Test attack that Darren Gough believes could be England’s best since the 2005 Ashes.
“It’s a hell of a comment from Goughie – I love that,” said Wood. “I feel like 2005 is the top of the top. I wouldn’t put myself in that [group]. I remember watching that series as a kid and was blown away by how good that line-up was. Then again, when you think about Jimmy [Anderson] and Broady, they’re going to be the best legends of the fast-bowling department England’s ever had, so when you put them two amongst everyone else – Jofra’s as exciting as they come, you’ve got Stokesy the great all-rounder – he might not be far off.”
The prospect of Wood and Archer bowling in tandem in a Test match may not yet have come to pass, but it became a regular feature of England’s 2019 World Cup triumph, and Wood admitted that the desire to outdo one another in the pace stakes was a key feature of their “friendly rivalry”.
“I cannot speak for Jofra but I definitely want to be quicker than him and I’m sure he wants to be quicker than me,” Wood said. “Especially in the World Cup, he used to joke about it all the time that they were putting my speeds up higher deliberately. If we were to play together it would be exciting.
“I love that. But I feel like 2005 is the top of the top. I wouldn’t put myself in that [group]”@MAWood33 responds to @DGoughie‘s comments that England’s current pace attack is their best since the 2005 Ashes. pic.twitter.com/QAlCzdEiJR
— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) June 24, 2020
“I don’t know how it’s going to work, whether we’ll dip in and out to keep each other fresh and stuff. But it’s not a bad rivalry, it’s a friendly rivalry. Now I want to bowl fast all the time to prove that I can bowl as fast as Jofra. I would say he’s probably quicker than I am, and certainly makes it look a lot easier than me, so I want to prove that I can be as fast as Jof and that friendly rivalry does spur you on to be a better cricketer.”
For the time being, however, Wood’s primary focus is getting his head around the new normal of England’s locked-down training camp at the Ageas Bowl, where their 30-man squad will live, train and play for the next three weeks until decamping to Emirates Old Trafford for the second Test.
“It is slightly weird,” Wood admitted. “It is a bit like a sci-fi movie. Everybody is masked up, so you don’t know whether they are friendly or not. Some people scowl more than you think. It is something we will have to get used to.”
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Meals, he admitted, were a particularly strange event at the moment. “You have to follow arrows and feet marks everywhere, then you go to the tables which are sporadically spaced out. It’s a bit like when I was at school and you do a test with your individual table – apart from there’s nobody scribbling on the table like I used to. This morning I had breakfast and looked at the back of Jos’ [Buttler’s] head.”
Yorkshire Tea National Cricket Week works with the charity Chance to Shine to support and grow the grassroots of the game in schools and communities. Join in at www.chancetoshine.org/ncw20
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