Mark Wood has revealed his frustrations at being left on the sidelines for five Tests in a row in England’s bio-secure summer, but says he is working on a range of new tricks, including a wobble-seam delivery, to avoid being labelled an overseas specialist in Test cricket.
Wood, who is back in England’s white-ball squads for next week’s visit of Australia, had been Player of the Match twice in his three previous Test appearances coming into the summer – first in St Lucia at the start of 2019, where he produced one of the quickest spells in England’s Test history, and then most recently on the winter tour of South Africa, where another searing display earned him nine match-winning wickets in the fourth Test.
However, having been picked to play in the first Test of England’s delayed summer campaign against West Indies, Wood could manage just one wicket in each innings of England’s four-wicket defeat at the Ageas Bowl, and found himself out of favour for the rest of the Test season as Stuart Broad and James Anderson reclaimed centrestage with their familiar prowess in English conditions.
And while he insists his rapport with England’s new head coach Chris Silverwood remains strong given his previous role as bowling coach under Trevor Bayliss, Wood also suggested he hadn’t been given much of a reason for why he had fallen out of favour so quickly, with Jofra Archer, England’s other 90mph quick, featuring in four of the first five Tests of the summer, either side of his one-game absence for breaching the team’s bio-secure protocols.
“I asked the question after the last game, what did I need to improve on to get in the team, and they just said they were happy with my training ethic, and how I was around the team,” Wood said. “It was just a 50-50 call, and they went the other way without me.
“Of course it’s frustrating, you don’t want to be the guy that’s easily dropped all the time, but there’s nothing more you can do. You’ve just got to keep working hard. I’m trying to work on a wobble seam with a red ball, that’s something that hasn’t come naturally to me, but I’m trying to improve there.”
After 16 Tests since 2015, the discrepancies in Wood’s career record is becoming apparent – he averages 44.91 in ten home appearances, but an impressive 20.76 in six Tests away from home.
“That’s something that is obviously on record,” he said, “but I’m not going to get that better if I only play away and don’t play at home.
“I don’t think I played that badly in the first game,” he added. “I bowled all right, to average 89mph across 20-odd overs was pretty pleasing from my point of view, having not played for so long, but it’s just been one of them summers where, if I want to get better in England, I’m going to have to add things like a wobble seam, which is something I’m working on to try and get better.
“The lads that have played did well. I’m trying to learn off how they bowl, but I’d like to think if the conditions suit me away from home, then I’ll get the nod there.”
Wood’s career has also been hampered by regular injuries – he missed last summer’s Ashes after picking up a side strain during the World Cup final. But despite sustaining bruising on his troublesome left ankle during practice at Old Trafford, he insisted that had not been a factor in his non-selection.
“Going in, I hoped I’d play more after the winter, but it wasn’t to be,” he said. “The lads that played did well and it was hard for me to force myself in. So I just tried to be as good a team man as I could be, not moaning and groaning and giving as much energy back to the team as I could from the sidelines.”
Asked whether he might have benefitted from moaning a bit more, given Broad’s infamous interview to Sky Sports after being dropped for the first Test and Anderson’s subsequent quashing of any rumours about his retirement, Wood joked that he’d take the compliment about being one of the nice guys, but insisted it wasn’t his style to “shout and scream”.
“Once you know you’re not in a team, initially you’re disappointed but I still feel very lucky to be playing sport for England,” he said. “I’m a fan of the England cricket team, I want England to win, so I try and give as much energy back as I can to the team. And I think that’s important when you’re not playing.”
There’s little doubt that Wood’s upbeat personality helped to keep England’s morale high in the summer’s tough circumstances. Among his off-field activities, he delivered a one-man rendition of Jerusalem as England began their intra-squad warm-up match behind closed doors at the Ageas Bowl, and later helped to liven up a rain delay at Old Trafford with the decisive header in a much-viewed viral video of the squad playing keepie-up in a relay from the dressing-room balcony to a bin on the outfield.
But, he conceded, it hadn’t all been plain-sailing in what he termed “the game-show, ‘The Bubble'”, even for a man with such limitless reserves of optimism.
“There’s not much to do in Groundhog Day,” Wood said. “You get up, you go across the field, you’re back in the pavilion, you’re doing your 12th man duties, you’re training hard, then you come back to bed. There’s nothing much more you can do. At times it can be frustrating and hard mentally, but we knew that was going to be the case coming in.
“When you go home, like the last week I’ve just had, It refreshes your mind a little bit. But I’m not sure I was totally refreshed when I’ve seen the same hotel room, room 352, when I walked back in again.
“Jos [Buttler] left half his stuff here, so he’s walked back into the same set-up, his computer, his clothes and everything. When I took my bags home, I don’t think I unpacked them, I just left them in the car.
“But I’m still in a pretty positive frame of mind,” he added. “I mean, two Test matches ago I was Man of the Match for England in Johannesburg, so I still think I’ve got a good part to play going into the winter. It wasn’t to be in the summer, the lads that played did well. And that’s part of international sport.”