After a tough summer behind closed doors, Mark Wood believes the arrival of Australia for three T20Is and three ODIs is just the challenge that the England team needs to get its juices flowing, as they gear up to take on their “biggest rivals”.
Wood is one of three World Cup finalists, alongside Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer, to be included in England’s T20I squad for the first time this summer, following their involvement in the Test series against West Indies and Pakistan.
And though he has endured a frustrating time on the fringes of selection, missing each of England’s last five Tests, Wood believes he’s ready to put down some markers on Australia’s batsmen, much as Mitchell Johnson famously did at a similar stage of the English summer in 2013, ahead of his soaring performances in that winter’s 5-0 whitewash.
“That example, everyone still talks about how rapid he was in the one-day series and then you carry that over to the Test matches,” Wood said. “Obviously it’s a very different format, it’s a very different game but if you can start the ball rolling with a couple of players here, I’m sure they’ll be thinking about that no matter what the format.”
Wood himself cited Stuart Broad’s success against David Warner last summer, whom he dismissed in seven innings out of ten in an Ashes series in which he mustered 95 runs at 9.50. Warner will be one of the batsmen back in the firing line in the coming days, although to judge by the intensity of Australia’s intra-squad practices, he and his team-mates don’t intend to dwell on that display.
“When we turned up [at the Ageas Bowl] yesterday they were smashing the ball everywhere,” Wood said. “I don’t know if they were just doing it deliberately to try and scare us, but I’ll be out to try and stop that as much as I can and stop Australia winning.”
Asked if the prospect of an Australia series whetted his appetite, regardless of format, Wood replied: “Without a doubt. It’s always good when you play for England, don’t get us wrong, but it is an extra incentive when you play Australia, when you play the biggest rivals.
“They are desperate to beat you, you’re desperate to beat them. And it doesn’t matter if it’s the Ashes, white-ball, T20. Doesn’t matter what it is, we’ll be desperate to beat them.
“Full credit to them for coming over here in uncertain times but they’ll not be just here to make up the numbers, they’ll be doing everything they can.”
Despite his status as a 50-over World Cup winner, Wood’s role in the T20s isn’t entirely nailed on, however, especially given a somewhat lacklustre display in South Africa in February, when he was taken at nearly 12 an over while picking up four wickets in England’s 2-1 series win.
“I didn’t bowl very well in South Africa, if I’m honest,” he said. “I got smacked to every part of South Africa and the ball landed in every part of that country. I’ve got to do a lot of improvement if I want to get into that team because I didn’t do myself justice there.
“I actually didn’t prepare well if I’m honest,” he added. “I went home for a week [after the Test series] and didn’t do very much, I just wanted to refresh with the family, I hadn’t seen my son in a few months and when we landed back out there we had one training day and then it was play, travel, play, travel, play.
“My skills were not quite on it. I’m under a little bit of pressure here to prove that I deserve to be in the side because we’ve got a lot of depth and a lot of good bowlers. If I get the chance I’ll be trying to prove that I’ve got the skills.”
In terms of his specific role, Wood recognises that a bit of subtlety will be key, whether he’s handed the new ball or asked to bowl first-change behind Jofra Archer, who is back in England’s white-ball squads for the first time since the World Cup.
“I’ll still be trying to bowl as fast as I can at times,” Wood said. “You’ve got to be adaptable with slower balls and you’ve got to watch the batters a little bit more and be a little bit more on it because you’re not having three slips and a gully.
“When I first started 50-over cricket, I opened the bowling for England then when Jofra played the World Cup with Woakesy opening the bowling, I went to first change and I enjoyed that role. It’s never easy bowling in Twenty20, whether you’re up front or you’re in the middle. They’re coming at you 24/7.”