Mark Wood is in no mood to mention the “R” word. In fact, his jovial mood is almost cut dead by reference to the England management’s talk of him being rested at some stage during this Ashes summer to protect his injury-prone body.
“I definitely don’t want to miss games for England,” he says emphatically. “I have had a good rest. We have got some good fast-bowling stocks, and say the next one to come in took five wickets, then I am out of the team and can’t get back in.
“Being rested then looks pretty stupid. I wouldn’t want to give anyone else an opportunity. I want to cement that spot.”
The subject is a sensitive one for Wood, 25, precisely because he knows that England, aware that the Durham fast-bowler has never before played more than three successive first-class games, may decide to leave him out of either the Third Test against Australia at Edgbaston, which starts on Wednesday, or the one that follows at Trent Bridge.
Just four Tests into his international career, Wood already looks like a bowler worth managing carefully, injuries restricting him to just 24 first-class matches before he made his Test debut this summer. His performance in that Ashes opener at Cardiff, where his four wickets did not truly reflect the quality of his bowling, was an indication of just how good he can be.
England won that match by 169 runs, but received a brutal reality check a week later at Lord’s, losing by 405 runs in what represented their heaviest Ashes defeat since 1948.
Of England’s bowlers, Wood in particular struggled on a flat pitch, his pace markedly down, and there was talk that back-to-back Tests had taken their toll on his suspect body.
His whippy action is reminiscent of Simon Jones, and England know they have a responsibility to ensure Wood does not suffer the same fate as the 2005 Ashes winner, whose body gave out just 18 Tests into what could have been a great international career.
Wood, fresh from a week’s rest at home in the North-east, is not thinking about next month or next year, but focusing on the here and now.
“The management have asked me how my body is and how I feel, not [saying], ‘You are going to be rested’,” he says. “It was noticed my pace is down at times when it is a flat pitch and you don’t want to concede runs, so you bowl within yourself. I was consciously bowling within myself at Lord’s but I was down on pace.
“It’s just something I’ll look at and have to work on. But I’ve only played four Tests and I’d say the more I play the better I’ll get. There is only way I am going to get better and that is by playing back-to-back Tests. I have done well at Trent Bridge and I want the next game at Edgbaston.”
As well as the physical demands of an Ashes series, Wood is also finding out it can take a mental toll as well – in his case affecting his sleep. “It’s class, but the difference is the hype that surrounds the Ashes,” he says. “The whole intensity, pressure – you feel the nation on you a little bit. You’re desperate to do well for everyone.
“I find it hard to sleep the night before a game. My mind is in overdrive and it gets to you. It keeps happening but it is just excitement. I wake up every so often and go to the toilet and go back to sleep and then wake up thinking, ‘I hope I bowl better than I did yesterday’ and go back to sleep again, and wake up thinking, ‘I hope I score a few runs’.”
It is that excitement of an Australia Test series that first got Wood – a boyhood Wimbledon fan because he thought his dad looked like their goalkeeper, Hans Segers – hooked on cricket.
A decade ago, as a schoolboy Wood was mesmerised by the conclusion to the Edgbaston Test, when Steve Harmison, a friend and fellow Ashington Cricket Club member, took the final wicket of Australia’s Michael Kasprowicz to seal an epic two-run win.
Harmison has remained a mentor to Wood at Durham and is a constant source of advice, but it that match-winning moment in one of the greatest Tests of all that remains an inspiration to Wood.
“I watched it at Ashington because Harmy was playing and he was a big hero for everyone at the club,” he says. “I remember everyone was going mad – chairs getting kicked over – it was fantastic.
“It was the greatest series that I have ever watched, and to have somebody from your home town in it was fantastic. I would love to put a performance in like that. It is exciting for us as players now to try and emulate that.”
If, like that golden summer 10 years ago, England do go on to regain the Ashes, Wood will hope to have played a full part, even if his body and mind are shattered come the end of play.
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