Mark Wood sets his sights on becoming more than England’s drinks carrier in the Ashes

There have been plenty of incongruous sights during this most bizarre of years and on Tuesday morning Ashington Cricket Club witnessed another.

Despite the north east November chill, passers-by were treated to a view that few batsman in world cricket relish – that of Mark Wood tearing in and letting it rip.  

“I’ve been to Ashington Cricket Club, my local club,” he says. “I just went down to the nets, it’s an astroturf surface, so I had a bowl there. It went well. It was freezing but I enjoyed it.”

Always a talkative member of this England squad, Mark Wood is a man who loves bowling, regardless of the weather. But despite being a member of England’s squads across all formats this summer, he did more drinks carrying or, as he puts it, ‘counting the pictures on the wall’, than what he does best, namely putting the frighteners up batsman with his 90mph plus Exocets.

He’s a man with energy to burn. So it’s little wonder that he feels for those kids who are about to miss out on a month of grassroots sport as a result of the second national lockdown.

“From my point of view, as a kid growing up, I wanted to be outside 24/7,” says Wood, speaking at the launch of a new ECB and LV = General Insurance scheme aimed at supporting those areas of recreational cricket hit worst by Covid-19.  

“For my own sanity, I would be climbing the walls if I was in the house all the time.  Listen to Government advice but I think it’s important for mental and physical health that kids can get outdoors.”

Have spent so much time in the England bubble this summer, Wood knows a thing or two about kicking his heels during a year that has seen personal freedoms curtailed in a bid to control a global pandemic that, at more than one point, looked set to decimate England’s international summer.

For the man himself, a single Test appearance – in England’s opening match of the summer against the West Indies at Southampton – and three T20s and two ODIs against Australia almost two months later was the extent of his activity in England colours so far in 2020.

By the time Christmas rolls around, though, he’ll hope that the final few months of the year will have been more productive – and also serve to jog a few memories.

Wood has been named in both England’s Twenty20 and 50 over squads for their upcoming tour of South Africa, shortly after missing out on a Test central contract for the next 12 months.

With the Ashes looming, however, he is unequivocal about his long-term Test ambitions. Particularly with the Ashes Down Under looming next winter.

“I would,” he says, when asked if he would like to be on that plane 12 months from now. His short sharp response underlying his ambition to add to his current tally of 16 caps and 50 Test wickets.

“Growing up I always wanted to play for England across all formats, no matter what it was. I’m still trying to chase that dream of playing for England. Hopefully I can get a few games this year and prove my worth across all three.

“It (this summer) was frustrating. Any time you don’t play it’s frustrating. But the lads that were playing in the team were doing well and so it was hard for me to get in.

“Ultimately, that’s international sport, it’s ruthless at times because you can be doing everything you can but if the lads who have got the spots are doing well, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

When fit and firing there are few better than the Durham man, not just in England but anywhere in the world. And after everything that has happened since, it’s easy to forget the red ball lesson Wood handed out to South Africa’s batsmen as Joe Root’s side walloped them by 191 runs in Johannesburg back in January.  Wood deservedly picked up the man of the match award for his match figures of nine for 100.

At the age of 30, Wood is a very different player to the one who won his first Test cap against New Zealand back in 2015. He’s also experienced enough to know that if he continues to bide his time, then opportunities will knock.

“Previously I’ve maybe put too much pressure on myself about getting in the team to try, on that one-off, to get five wickets and keep myself in the team,” he says.

“This time I’m a bit older, a bit wiser I’ll be just trying to stick to the processes that I’ve been doing and not put too much pressure on. There will be rotation in the winter. I was hoping for a little bit more rotation in the summer but in the winter there definitely will be.”

Putting together a string of performances in the shorter formats might be an old-fashioned way for Wood to break back into the Test side.

If rotation by necessity means he can do it by the time England head to Sri Lanka and India in the New Year, then his fortunes will have come full circle in 12 months.    

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