In the lead up to the 2016 domestic season, ecb.co.uk will be running a series of features with all 18 first-class counties. Durham’s Mark Wood is looking to make an impact in the Specsavers County Championship on his return from injury.
Mark Wood’s glass is generally half full, rather than half empty – even as a teetotaller. So he needs no second invitation to identify one benefit of the injury problems that have frustrated him this winter – the chance to boost Durham in the early stages of the Specsavers County Championship season.
Wood made only one county appearance in the summer of 2015, and played a key role in a home victory against Nottinghamshire in May with six wickets and a career-best 66 in the second innings – having come in as a nightwatchman at number three. The following week he made a memorable Test debut in England’s thrilling win against New Zealand at Lord’s, and three months later he took the wicket that sealed the Ashes at Trent Bridge.
But a landmark year was cut short, in a cricketing sense, when his troublesome left ankle flared up after the second Test against Pakistan in late October. He had an operation the following month and has been taking things steadily and sensibly ever since, working towards being fully fit for the start of the 2016 summer – which means Durham’s Championship opener against Somerset at the renamed Emirates Riverside.
“Hopefully I’ll be playing in Durham’s first three games, and then we’ll have to wait and see,” said the 26-year-old – who is set to forge a formidable bowling unit with Chris Rushworth, Graham Onions and possibly even Ben Stokes for subsequent fixtures against Middlesex and Hampshire.
“I’ve been working back to bowling since having the surgery, and it feels great. I did a winter programme out in South Africa with Kevin Shine of the ECB and also Neil Killeen who has worked on the ECB programmes and obviously I know well from Durham.
“I had a good rehabilitation out there with a physio and a strength coach as well, doing plenty of weights and running and then gradually building up the bowling. And then since coming back home I’ve been going all around the country really, finding places where I can bowl in the tents they put up outside with grass nets, rather than bowling indoors.
“Gloucestershire have got one down at Bristol and they’ve been great, the same with Surrey at the Oval, and I’ve also used the facilities at Loughborough with the ECB.”
Wood will return to the National Cricket Performance Centre in the next couple of weeks with the Durham squad as they step up their preparations for the season. The county did not have a pre-season tour this spring, meaning their players have remained scattered – Scott Borthwick playing first-class cricket in Wellington, for example, while Ryan Pringle travelled to Dubai, and Rushworth to Melbourne.
“The lads have got outside occasionally up at home, but the way it is in the north-east that isn’t always easy in March,” Wood explained. “So we’re all spending four or five days using the facilities in Loughborough – I think to get a change of environment, as much as anything.
“The facilities are great there, and the staff are really helpful. I’ll probably have to give the lads a guide, I’ve been there that many times. Plus there’s only one Student Union bar, so the coaches can keep an eye on us.”
This will be Durham’s 10th consecutive summer in Division One of the Championship, the best record in the country, and much of their success during the last decade has been built on flying starts in the spring. Last season they won six of their first eight matches and were keeping pace with Yorkshire, which meant that even after losing six of their remaining eight, they still finished in a respectable fourth.
“I honestly can’t see a bad team in the top division this year, so it’s more important than ever to get off to a good start,” says Wood. “That can really kick-start your season, especially if you play well at home where we’ve had a good record in the past.”
His presence, plus that of Stokes – a product of Durham’s development system, even if he had divided his early years between Christchurch and Cockermouth – will give the county even more of a local flavour, in their 25th season in the first-class game.
Durham also have a fresh crop of younger talent, headed by Jack Burnham, the hard-hitting batsman who scored three centuries for England in the recent ICC Under-19s World Cup.
“That’s where we’ve gone in the last few years, looking to our own,” Wood continued. “We had a phenomenal team a few years back with guys from outside like Dale Benkenstein, Michael Di Venuto, even Ian Blackwell who came from Somerset. But Durham’s always produced good cricketers. It’s a good breeding ground, I think people are brought up in the right culture, playing hard – guys like John Windows who runs the Academy, and Geoff Cook who has been involved for so long, ensuring the right characteristics for what Durham need.
“We’re probably best-known for producing fast bowlers but you’ve also got guys like Paul Collingwood. Mark Stoneman is a gritty cricketer, Scott Borthwick’s more fluent, so we’ve got different types of cricketer, but we’ve got the same outlook. I think that’s the identity and connection with people round here – we’re all proud to represent the region.”
That is why Wood will relish the chance to launch his bid to reclaim his England Test place in a Durham shirt this spring.