Mark Wood knows plenty about enforced breaks from cricket. Since his England debut in May 2015, he has played 15 out of 69 Tests for England, alongside 59 limited-overs internationals from a total of 145. In that time, he has helped win an Ashes series, claimed a World Cup-winners medal and bowled some of the fastest spells by an Englishman, so it’s understandable that people have been left wanting more.
Injuries have been woven into the fabric of Wood’s international career, but they have not managed to take the edge off his bowling or his eagerness to get back into the fray. With the sporting world, and normal life in general, in abeyance due to the coronavirus, Wood has been able to quietly work his way back to fitness from a side strain sustained in South Africa earlier this year, as well as enjoy some of the benefits of fatherhood after the birth of his son in October.
Extended time with the family is a rare luxury for most England cricketers, but Wood and his team-mates may soon have to contemplate being away from home for a two-month stretch during summer – something Wood has side he would be willing to do – if ECB plans to host series against West Indies and Pakistan come to fruition. At which point attention will turn once again to fitness, and the rather more unusual demands of returning to full-tilt competition after more than six weeks in lockdown.
“I don’t feel like it would take me that long,” Wood says. “I’ve managed to maintain a level of fitness, I’ve got a bike in the house, I’ve been doing some running and I have weights in the garage. I’ve been trying to tick over and trying to strengthen the area in my side – I hope the time off has helped that – and then it’s a little bit of build-up back into bowling.
“I’m not saying I’m quite a Jimmy Anderson, who gets into his groove nice and easy and seems just to be at the top of his game like a magician. He seems to just rock up and hit the top of off stump. I’m not quite like that but, having had these experiences, where I’ve had long periods off and come back determined to be better I’m confident I can do that again.”
After playing a starring role in England’s comeback in South Africa, bowling consistently above 90mph in back-to-back Test wins in Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg – where he claimed career-best match figures of 9 for 100 – Wood suffered a recurrence of the side strain sustained during last year’s World Cup final. He was subsequently ruled out of the tour to Sri Lanka, which was aborted in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic escalated.
“We’d all hate to bring things back to families, to cameramen or people working at the ground, the management. It’s important everyone is safe.”
Wood has spent his time in lockdown changing nappies and introducing son Harry to Jason and the Argonauts, as well as showing a knack for lip-synching in TikTok videos with his wife Sarah. Always quick to lighten the mood – as he did on debut when riding his imaginary horse on the outfield at Lord’s – Wood has been encouraged to see himself as England’s “smiling assassin” by coach Chris Silverwood, as he competes with the likes of Jofra Archer and Olly Stone to add extra pace to the attack.
“The philosophy of Chris Silverwood, trying to have fun and enjoying it, I think brings out the best in me,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed it with ‘Spoons’, where he’s basically told me to go out there and try and have as much fun as I can, play with a smile on my face, be that smiling assassin when I’m bowling. I really enjoy having that sort of relaxed atmosphere. Having that rotation in the squad, having Stoney and Jofra as friendly competition where we can all push each other as fast bowlers I think is good for the team and certainly good for me.
“It’s something I spoke about when I went away with the Lions [in 2018] with Kevin Shine, my cricket had sort of stood still for a little bit. He said ‘When I first saw you this is what you were like’, and I had a meeting with Spoons about it and he summed it up perfectly. He said, ‘I want you to be a smiling assassin’, and since then that’s stuck in my mind. It’s something I think fits well.”
There are currently more weighty issues to be dealing with, as the ECB tries to plot a route through the summer that will involve playing international cricket behind closed doors – but Wood said the players were willing to put their trust in Ashley Giles, the managing director of England men’s cricket, and chief medical officer, Nick Peirce.
“We’re all willing to get going as long as the environment is safe, that’s the main thing,” Wood said. “We’d all hate to bring things back to families, to cameramen or people working at the ground, the management. It’s important everyone is safe. I know everybody’s desperate to get going but the bigger picture is still what’s going on on the frontline with key workers, the doctors, people like that. We’re desperate to get cricket up and going but at the moment there’s bigger things out there.”
Time away from the game has allowed an appreciation of those “bigger things”, though Wood laughs at the irony of being fully fit only for a global shutdown to deprive him of further playing opportunities.
“I’m going to get injured aren’t I? A week after all this has ended I’m bound to get injured. First net my ankle’s gone. Nobody saw this happening after we came back from South Africa but from my own point of view it’s been nice to spend some time with my son and seeing him develop, having a bit of time with him. I’ve mentally enjoyed not thinking about cricket and diving into family life with him. Then as soon as cricket starts again I’ll dive back mentally into that.”