Mark Wood has not given up hope of playing in the Ashes and has his eyes fixed on a return in Perth. But even if Wood plays no part in the series, he says he will never give up on his dream of playing Test cricket and has no intention of pursuing a future as a white-ball specialist.
Wood, whose career has been blighted by a series of injuries to his left ankle, returned to the England nets this week. As a member of the England Lions squad – effectively the second XI – he was employed to test the batsmen playing in Brisbane while ensuring the first-team bowlers were spared.
In an ideal world he would have been a member of the England squad rather than a net bowler. But, after two slightly underwhelming Tests against South Africa – Wood suggests his Test career to date deserves only a 5/10 rating – he was diagnosed with a bruised left heel and, upon further investigation, some ligament damage was also found. While he was able to return to the Durham team just before the end of the season, the England selectors did not think he had shown enough to warrant selection for the Ashes tour.
Even a week or two ago, when England were looking for a replacement for Steven Finn and, potentially, Jake Ball, Wood was discounted as it was feared he was not back to match fitness.
He remains highly rated by the England management, however. Ottis Gibson said he was the outstanding pace-bowling prospect in England when he resigned the bowling coach role in September and, despite being left out of the tour, he was reassured by the management that he could still play a part in the series if he proved his fitness.
“I had meetings with Andrew Strauss, Trevor Bayliss and James Whitaker at the end of the season,” Wood said. “They said that if I got my body right I’d be in a position still to have an impact in the series.
“I’ve got a chance but you have to wait for injuries. I’m not here to put any of the lads under pressure and I’ve had enough injuries to know you don’t want people to go through that. But if there is an injury I might be in the background and out with the Lions doing well and I can just slot in.
“I’d say I’m bowling at about 80%, at the moment. My action feels good, but I’ve got no overs under my belt. I’m playing against Queensland on Monday and then we head to Perth. I’ve heard numerous things about the WACA nets so I’m looking forward to that. If I can build it up and impress in those WACA nets, then hopefully I can play some part in the series.”
Wood admits he has struggled to deal with the disappointment and frustration the injuries have caused, but he will not entertain a future either as a white-ball specialist – where he could probably make a fortune on the T20 circuit – or by reducing his pace.
“I’ll never go the white-ball route, no,” Wood said. “This – Test cricket – is the ultimate for me. I’m still hoping that at some point I might be part of this series. It is a long series. If there is an injury, I’m hoping to be raring to go.
“And pace with skill is the killer for me. If I can ramp it up, the pace makes me different from everyone else. But I can add that with a little bit of skill that hopefully makes me one of the best around.
“I do find it difficult with the injuries. It’s hard. It was tough on Tuesday seeing all the lads preparing and I was with the Lions lads. It was nice to see everyone but it’s hard to be on the edge of things and not amongst it. It is obviously a huge occasion for everyone here.
“Having good friends and family helps you cope, I guess. And I’ve done a lot of work with the England psychologist. There are times when I thought I wouldn’t get back to playing for England and then, when I do get back, I wanted to stay there.
“So it has been immensely frustrating. Every operation I had, I came back thinking the rehab was tough but this last year I found mentally harder than anything.
“I felt I was in a battle with myself. I’ve always been a free-spirited sort of guy who just run in bowled, but this year I had more on my mind. I spent plenty of time over the last four or five weeks of the season in a battle with myself thinking is it going to hurt when I land.”
The latest attempt to fix his ankle has seen him undergo a series of procedures where sugar is injected into his ankle ligaments. While the experience is clearly unpleasant, Wood feels the pain is worthwhile if it provides him an opportunity to prove himself in Test cricket.
“They’re horrible injections,” he said. “Though I suppose I should be tougher coming from up north. It basically messes up your ligament. It scars it up and when it heals it heals itself tighter. They say it should work long term. It’s not an injury connected to my previous operations.
“I really do believe in myself. I have a lot of self-belief and I think that if I can get back to a position when I’m in a good place physically and I can show how good I can be. I don’t think I’ve quite lived up to that yet. There’s been the odd glimpse in my England career so far, but I’ve never lived up to my own expectations or probably other people’s.
“I’ve never experienced touring Australia. I’ve been to the Gold Coast playing club cricket but to be here at the Gabba is something I’d like to be a part of. Playing at the MCG on Boxing Day would be a pretty good dream.”
Source: ESPN Crickinfo