With removal from England’s tour to Bangladesh due to injury and the relegation and points deductions placed on Durham CCC, it’s been a tough few days for fast bowler Mark Wood. He tells Phil Walker about the week from hell – and how he’s staying positive.
A week is a long old time in cricket. There we were last Wednesday, sending our autumn issue to print and legging it straight from the office to the PCA awards, fastening our dickies in the cab. Life felt good. Wading through the flashlights and paps (honestly, we can’t walk down the street these days), we alighted on Ben Stokes, coolly mentioning that we’d just interviewed Mark Wood – the bonny, fit-again, centrally contracted Mark Wood – for the upcoming magazine, and that we’re convinced he’s going to take over the world. “You know he’s not going to Bangladesh,” says Stokes. “Ankle again.”
It’s confirmed the next morning. He’s out. We reread the first interview, now in the inky hands of the printers, and it’s a killer.
Here’s Wood on his time out of the game, following two operations to that ankle, one to the back of it, another to the front: “You’re sitting there thinking, ‘Will it ever be the same again? Where will I be in a year’s time? Will I ever get back in the England team?’ It was like: ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever get back in here.’ Back then, if you’d said to me I would come back, be bowling quickly and be back in the England team, and play a Finals Day with Durham, I’d have snapped your hand off.”
And this, on driving his girlfriend up the wall during his layoff: “She was sick at one point. Off work, and she was forced into kicking me into the spare room for a couple of hours a day, where I had to sit by myself and talk to myself. There was only so much she could take. She’s a schoolteacher, and I think she was the only person I’ve ever heard of who was desperate to get back to work, just to get away from us.”
He spent most of that period “climbing the walls”, singing, watching Zulu (“It’s patriotic, I guess”) and playing Mario Kart, waiting and waiting to heal until finally he was allowed to go again. And so excited was Mark Wood about returning to the crease that upon arrival he tore through it like an untagged teen on day release.
THE ABORTED COMEBACK
Fleetingly, it was thrilling: irresistible for Durham in Twenty20, blowing Gloucester away in the quarters and upending Root and Bairstow in the semi against Yorkshire, prompting Rob Key on commentary to proclaim it the best spell of fast bowling he’d ever seen at county level. A fortnight later, hastily recalled for the Pakistan ODIs – where at Lord’s he produced one of the balls of the summer to clean up Sharjeel Khan – he was again extremely quick, consistently faster through the air across these televised matches than at any other stage in his disjointed, truncated, supremely promising career.
A week after that series, he bowled 35 overs against Surrey to help Durham to the victory they needed to stay in Division One. It wasn’t easy, nor was it painless. Still, the club that created Mark Wood – and which presented him fully formed to the international scene, where four months on from his Test debut he would take the wicket that sealed the Ashes – was in desperate need. Their boy wanted to save them, and so that is what he did. Durham got the win, but physically it had been too much; and, worse, even in victory, it was all in vain.
THE SHOCK OF THE FALL – DURHAM RELEGATION
A troublesome ankle is one thing. A proud and beautiful cricket club shaken to its core is another. “Everyone’s… shocked,” he says carefully, of the barely assimilated news that Durham’s parlous financial state has been deemed sufficiently shaming to be relegated, docked 48 [FORTY-EIGHT] points for the start of next year’s County Championship and hit with points deductions in the one-day formats. “We had meetings throughout the year, we knew the background situation, but we didn’t know the full ins and outs. And then unfortunately it came all in one – we’re hit with this ECB sanction and we’re relegated.
“The lads are just gutted because we’re a tight group at Durham, with that identity of being from the north-east. We’ve never actually been relegated from the County Championship. It’s not the players’ fault that things behind the scenes haven’t been right, so it’s a bit harsh on the players.
“We’ve got to get up, get some north-east passion, rally and go again. I still think there will be some questions. That initial shock’s gone now. There’s no point in being bitter or sour, we’ve just got to get on with it and go again. My Twitter went mad, with the supporters. It’s more them I feel sorry for – with the players, at least we can affect it, we can try to win games and get back, [but] for the supporters it’s taken the wind out of their sails a little bit, deflated them a little bit. The ECB have to set a precedent – if other clubs go down that route, they don’t want more of this to happen. As a group of players we’ve just got to get on with it.
“For me, the most frustrating thing is I was at 60 per cent against Surrey, but I was desperate to play to keep us up and we’ve been relegated anyway. I probably shouldn’t have played. It made it worse. I had an injection after the game, knowing that at the time I thought Durham were safe, but the injection didn’t work.”
Looking back now, at the onrush of matches, moments and adrenaline-jacked 90mph spells squeezed into two heady months, was it a case of too much too soon? “Probably. Bad habits crept in when I rushed back, because I was just trying to bowl fast, to be on the field, so I wasn’t actually working on technique or my action. My front foot splays out a little bit, and that’s natural to me, and that splay actually allows my right hip to come through and be a bit quicker. If that foot landed straight I don’t think I’d have the same sort of timing in my action to let the ball go quick, so that’s just natural to me.
“But I think instead of being splayed at what I would call 10 to 2 [on the clock face], if I can get it more at 5 to 1, I think that would be ideal for me. I didn’t do too much technique work, because I was just desperate to keep playing, keep playing, keep playing, and by doing that I’ve pinched it a little bit.”
‘I THINK I’LL BE FINE FOR INDIA’
Missing Bangladesh is a blow, but not necessarily a crushing one. He sees the next few weeks as a chance to get himself right, and hopefully, “in the window”, work on those technical aspects with Kevin Shine, the ECB’s head fast bowling coach. And if all goes well, Wood believes he’ll be able to join up for the Indian leg. “I think I’ll be fine for India. It’s nothing serious, it’s just a bit inflamed and sore for the intensity of international cricket. I think just a bit of rest and recovery and general physio should get me ready for India.”
It’s consistent with the sportsman’s psychological make-up – and an essential survival-mantra – to insist that they’ll be back fitter, stronger, better. But if there’s a faint whiff of self-kidology here, Wood is far from hobbling around on one foot and a couple of hopes.
“I’ve been doing weights, circuits. I went for a run on Sunday, and then spoke to the physio on Monday and asked him, ‘What’s the plan?’ and he said, ‘I’m happy for you to do anything but run.’ Yeah, probably should have rang him before the run, rather than afterwards…”
No doubt, Wood’s faith has taken a hit – “I hate being labelled as injury-prone, but things like this don’t help” – while watching from the sidelines has tested his resolve. But amid all the false starts and the dark nights, the central Test contract, awarded last month to Wood and just nine other Englishmen, has done wonders for his spirit.
“Without going over the top, that’s a huge boost, the fact that the ECB put that much trust in me. I want them to think that I’ll do everything I can to repay the faith that they’ve put in us. The good thing is they know what I can do, and that at the minute I haven’t really touched the surface, or really shown everyone what I can do.”
Where does he see himself going?
“I want to be the best in the world. And I think I can do that, as long as I get this body right.”