Wood takes the self-help path to refurbishment

One to watch for 2002: £4,000 investment pays off as Australian guru helps Yorkshire opener rediscover form
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The Independent Online

Given all the rebuilding he has had to do in his life people could be forgiven for thinking that Do It Yourself is Matt Wood's hobby. Just for openers he did a number on a centuries-old cottage in his native Yorkshire but, not content with that, he then had a bash at reconstructing his career after it had collapsed on him.

And it all seems to be paying off. The cottage is still standing and the Yorkshire opening batsman's career looks to be on the up. He is presently enjoying a well-deserved half-term break from the England Academy under the searching eye of its director, Rod Marsh, in Adelaide. At 24, Wood is one of the oldest members of the 15-strong squad that was sent Down Under to cricket's 'finishing school'.

Yet, back in 1998, when the Huddersfield-born Wood made his county debut, aged 20, he already looked like the finished product. That summer he topped 1,000 first-class runs and scored four centuries, the highlight being an unbeaten double hundred against Warwickshire at Headingley, this after making his first class debut the season before against Lancashire in a non-Championship match and marking it with 81 in the first innings.

This was some prospect. There was a buzz in Yorkshire as 1999 rolled round. Great things were foreseen for Wood in his second full season, which began with a couple of respectable knocks against Gloucestershire.

But there is such a thing as second season syndrome, and Wood's form was laid low by it. There was one half-century a month into the campaign then the runs dried up. Still, everyone shrugged, there was always 2000.

Indeed there was but, oddly, Wood, already marked out as a player with a difference, suffered a third season syndrome. "They were a couple of shockers," he admits. "I don't really know what happened except that after that first year I left home and bought a 200-year-old cottage in Emley Moor, the village where I was brought up.

"I spent that winter completely gutting the place and reducing it to a shell, before renovating it. My Dad and I did a lot of the work ourselves, I had worked at various times for an electrician and a builder and even though I am not big on DIY I found it great to be doing something other than cricket.

"It was my first full year as a professional cricketer and I was knackered by the end of the season. I felt I needed a change. A break. But, on reflection, maybe I should have gone away that winter to Australia or wherever to maintain the momentum. But I did prepare for the 1999 season in exactly the same way as I had for 1998, so perhaps I expected too much of myself too soon.

"I certainly got fed up with all the low scores, particularly when it happened again the following year. It was the first real slump I had experienced since taking up the game. The thing was, though, I was aware that this was not just a game. This was supposed to be my job, my career."

Things got to such a pitch that in the second season of poor form, which did contain one century, Wood resembled someone in front of a firing squad; knowing it was all going to be over, but not knowing which bowler was going to send down the critical ball. "I kept wondering when the wicket ball would come along," he says. "I was expecting to be out every delivery. I kept nicking balls, playing inside the line and I soon realised that I was not as good as I thought I was."

That realisation would have broken another man, but they are made of more dogged stuff in Emley Moor. "At the end of the 2000 season I knew I had one more year of my contract to run and I was told that the county would not stand in my way if I wanted to move for 2001. Reading between the lines, I knew if failed in 2001 I would not be offered a new contract."

With his career on the line, Wood knew drastic measures were called for. It has become a professional sportsman's cliché that "you back yourself", but there are probably very few young professionals who have done just that.

Last winter Wood and his Yorkshire colleague Anthony McGrath backed themselves to the tune of £1,000, the sum they paid the Australian coach Peter Carlstein – batting guru to the Hollioake brothers, Adam and Ben, among others – to sort out their problems.

"We went over there for seven weeks and, in all, with air fares and accommodation, I spent about £4,000 in a last ditch effort to save my career. And Peter was brilliant. Because he had not seen me failing for those two seasons he was able to look at me with a fresh pair of eyes.

"He picked up on a few things, gave me a few ideas to work on, nothing massive. He helped me groove shots and nailed one or two other things, but he would not let me leave the nets until I was satisfied that I had got it right. It was hard work. We used to get up at 6.30 in the morning and go down to the beach to work out before getting down to the technical training. It was the full package and there were times when Mags [McGrath] and I used to curse him."

However there were no curses last season. And for good reason. Injury and a final last struggle for form delayed things, but finally Wood reaped rich dividends from his four-figure investment. He rediscovered what constitutes a good trot with eight scores of fifty or more (two of them hundreds) in 11 innings and by the end of a marvellous season when Yorkshire finished as County Champions Wood's contribution was 1,060 runs at an impressive average of 48.18. Thus were the new foundations of his career laid.

But there was no time to sit back and enjoy. Those footings needed to be built upon. Selection for the Academy still caught Wood by surprise. "I thought I had done too much damage in those two years to be considered so soon for something like this," Wood admits. "But Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, has said that hard work will be rewarded."

And there is no doubt that Wood is prepared for that. This second successive winter Down Under is a chance for him to consolidate all the good he has achieved in the last 15 months or so.

And a formidable work schedule honing technique and skills during days when the "students" are hard at work from dawn to dusk, has not deterred him. "It is like a holiday this time," he says, "after the DIY spell the year before. We have had sessions with Ian Chappell on how to play spin and pace bowling, while another former Australian Test batsman, John Inverarity, has been giving us technical drills."

But it is not all cricket. The Academy is not there just to prepare the players for the game, it is also there to prepare them for the world at large. A surprised Wood found himself learning public speaking, cookery, handling the media and, he adds: "We were all given a computer. I had never used one before, but I can now."

Who said that Do It Yourself does not pay off? Wood, who signed a new three-year contract with Yorkshire at the end of last season, now looks to have laid the foundations for a sound future and a high-rise cricket career.