Mark Wood catches up with Stuart Broad during an England net session in Brisbane
Mark Wood is preparing to press his claim for a late call-up to England’s Ashes squad as Mitchell Johnson, the Australian quick who terrorised England four years ago, ridiculed their attack as a bunch of “sweatband swingers”.
Wood’s opportunity comes in a three-day match for England Lions against Queensland in Brisbane before what is essentially an Ashes shadow squad moves on to Perth.
Wood, who was England’s fastest bowler until he was stricken by ankle trouble, hopes to emerge from three operations to rebuild his Test career.
If you believe Johnson, it can’t come fast enough.
Johnson collected 37 wickets and three Man-of-the-Match awards on England’s last Ashes tour and is clearly missing all the attention.
He took to Twitter to goad two former England batsmen, Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen, who are in Australia on media duties: “Hey @KP24 @MichaelVaughan yesterday [you] were carrying on about the pommy fast bowlers being able to bowl in the 140s. Ever since they’ve taken the second new ball they’ve been bowling medium pace. They are allowed to bend their backs, and there’s 4 of them #ashes #sweatbandswinger”
Hey @KP24 @MichaelVaughan yesterday were carrying on about the pommy fast bowlers being able to bowl in the 140’s. Ever since they’ve taken the second new ball they’ve been bowling medium pace. They are allowed to bend their backs, and there’s 4 of them #ashes #sweatbandswinger
— Mitchell Johnson (@MitchJohnson398) November 25, 2017
Even on a surprisingly sluggish Brisbane surface, the advantage of speed on Australian pitches has been hard to ignore. Joe Root was struck on the helmet by Mitchell Starc, Alastair Cook was beaten on the hook by Josh Hazelwood and England’s tail looked unlikely to detain Australia for very long.
Wood, 27, claimed the wicket which saw England regain the Ashes at Trent Bridge in 2015, but lost his England central contract and a tour place for Australia last month after an injury-hit season in which he managed only 14 wickets in seven first-class appearances and his ankle issues were compounded by persistent heel problems.
He did take four wickets against Australia in an impressive Champions Trophy campaign, but by the time he featured in two Tests against South Africa, he was well down on pace. That did not dissuade Ottis Gibson from billing him as England’s most hostile fast bowler as Gibson relinquished England’s bowling coach role to take charge of of South Africa.
Andy Flower, the Lions head coach, said: “Woody will definitely play in our match against Queensland. He’s looking fit and strong and full of energy. He had two good days bowling at the England players which he came through well, so this is the perfect game for him.”
Wood met up with the England squad at net sessions in Brisbane before the first Test and was told in a meeting with the MD of England cricket Andrew Strauss, national selector James Whitaker and coach Trevor Bayliss that an appearance in the Ashes series was not being ruled out.
That door might be slightly more ajar after a Test in which Jake Ball made little impression and fitness concerns have swirled around the leader of England’s attack, James Anderson.
“They said that if I got my body right I’d still be in a position to have an impact in the series,” Wood said recently. “So in the back of my mind I’ve always thought I’ve got a chance.
“But I’m not here to put any of the lads under pressure. You don’t want anyone to get injured – I’ve had enough myself to know you don’t want people to go through that. We’ll just have to wait and see.
“I might be just in the background underneath the radar with the Lions hopefully doing well and I can just slot in. It’s a long series, so I’m still hoping at some stage I might be a part of it.
“I’ve been building it up out here and my action feels good. It’s just I’ve got no overs under my belt. So the more bowling training I can do in games the better.”
As newspaper headlines blared about an incident involving England’s wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow, alleging that he had “headbutted” the Australia batsman Cameron Bancroft in a bar in Perth in the early days of the tour, attention will also be focused upon the deputy wicketkeeper Ben Foakes.
It was not entirely clear, though, on the eve of the game, whether Foakes, who was originally carded at No. 4 as a specialist batsman, would take the gloves or whether Alex Davies would be retained as wicketkeeper.
England are suggesting privately that the Bairstow story has been ramped up with the deliberate intention of destabilising the squad, but Strauss will continue discussions with Bairstow after the completion of the Brisbane Test in full knowledge that there have been calls for him to be suspended.
Tom Curran, who has yet to play since he replaced Steven Finn in the Ashes party, also has his first run out of the trip.
England Lions (12-a-side game): Keaton Jennings (capt), Nick Gubbins, Tom Westley, Ben Foakes, Dan Lawrence, Liam Livingstone, Alex Davies, Paul Coughlin, Tom Curran, Mark Wood, Jack Leach, George Garton
Source: ESPN Crickinfo