Mark Wood: 'I wondered if I'd go white-ball only but I'm pleased I've stuck with it'
England's Multan match-winner hails Ben Stokes as a "world-class" captain
There aren't many better people to chart the evolution of Ben Stokes into England's Test captain than his good friend Mark Wood.
Since joining the Durham academy aged 15 and 16 respectively, they have grown as cricketers in tandem. They were previously opponents, notably in a minor county Under-15 game between Cumbria, where Stokes was building his hype, and Northumberland, when Wood was a top-order batter who bowled a bit of medium pace. Supposedly, they also played each other when Cockermouth Cricket Club took on Ashington Cricket Club in a festival competition in York. Neither remembers much of it, though Stokes insists his Cockermouth won.
From travelling to matches together when making their way at Chester-le-Street - often enough that Wood's mother would buy Percy Pigs for him to take on away trips because she knew how much Stokes liked them - they are now in their early 30s having represented England together for seven years and counting. The series-clinching victory in the second Test against Pakistan was the 77th time they shared the field across all international formats.
Multan, however, was the first time Wood has experienced the new, "do-as-I-do" captaincy of Stokes. A previous experience came in the Covid-19 summer of 2020 when Joe Root missed the first Test against West Indies for the birth of his second child. This, however, was the real thing.
Wood helped secure an eighth victory in nine for Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum, taking 4 for 65 in the second innings, along with 2 for 40 in the first and 36 not out on day one, as England sealed the series with a game to spare. While ecstatic at his own performance, having not played a Test match since March 2022 after two elbow operations and an injured hip, Wood admitted he was equal amounts surprised and impressed by Stokes' ability as leader, both on and off the field.
"It's weird, the lad I grew up with," Wood said, "Stokesy now is much more mature. He speaks so well - he's always had a fantastic cricket brain. But the way he comes across, the way he conducts himself and the messages that he gives, he's just so much more rounded than when we were growing up.
"He was this alpha guy who would whack it, never back down. He's still got all that, but he's got other sides to him now. He'll put an arm round people, express what he means really articulately. I didn't think he had some of the words in his locker. But he's been world-class, to be fair."
"I wondered if I'd go white-ball only. At some my point my body will say that it's the way to go but I didn't prepare for white-ball, I prepared for all cricket. I desperately wanted to experience all this, with Stokesy and Brendon, so I'm pleased I've stuck with it."Mark Wood feels his investment in his Test career has paid off
Among a series of tactical tweaks throughout the Test, with Stokes his quick bowlers in short, sharp bursts at various stages of Pakistan's first and second innings, the decisive moment came just before lunch on day four.
Saud Shakeel and Mohammad Nawaz were taking the game away from England with a fine stand for the sixth wicket, before Wood was introduced in the 92nd over with 69 required of Pakistan's target of 355. Bowling short and around the wicket to both left-handers, Wood removed Nawaz (45) and Shakeel (94) in the space of six balls, both down the leg side, the second of which a point of controversy with disputes over whether Ollie Pope had caught Shakeel cleanly. Nevertheless, it was a passage of play that put England back in front - a position they would not relinquish, going on to win by 26 runs.
"We tried reverse and he (Shakeel) played really nicely so we thought we would try something different," Wood said. "Stokesy asked me to be a game-changer just before lunch, asked me to mix it up. He was really clever with his fields. When you bowl short, people think you just whack it in but you have to get the line and height right.
"We pulled the three-quarter man into leg slip and all of a sudden, he has played a shot down the leg side whereas before he was standing up and leaving it because he didn't want to take it on. I am really glad we managed to get the plans right."
The wicket of Nawaz in particular, which ended an 80-run stand with Shakeel, drew an emphatic reaction from Stokes, who squeezed the life out of Wood, relieved and grateful. "He said you can have a big bear hug for that," Wood recalled. "Those were his exact words. He asked me to change the game and he was very pleased I did that."
After injuries kept Wood out of the English summer, it has been a spectacular return to action. After tuning up in the T20I series here in Pakistan a couple of months ago, he helped England to the T20 World Cup title in Australia, taking nine wickets at an average of 7.71 in four matches. A hip injury kept him out of the semi-final and final, and the first Test in Pakistan at Rawalpindi, before his comeback in Multan to play a key part in a first English series win in the country for 22 years.
While he is enjoying success with the red and white ball, Wood accepts the nature of his work as one of the fastest bowlers in the world means there will come a time when he has to choose a specific path. His will to play all formats is as strong as ever, but with a 33rd birthday coming up next month, there is an acceptance a decision will be based on his body rather than ambition.
He has retained a lucrative IPL deal with Lucknow Super Giants (worth INR 7.50 crore/£735,000 approx.) for 2023 after being ruled out of the tournament last year and has previously played for Chennai Super Kings. That, so far, has been his only taste of the franchise circuit. He recently turned down an undisclosed offer from Durban Super Giants, the SA20 franchise affiliated with Lucknow, to spend time with his young family after just 10 days at home since the end of the English summer. If he were to fully commit to that world, he would not be short of suitors.
When asked if he thought a return to Test cricket would not come after he succumbed to an elbow injury during the first Test against West Indies nine months ago, his immediate response was "not really". Then came some reluctant honesty. "Well, in fact, yes. I wondered if I'd go white-ball only.
"At some my point my body will say that it's the way to go but I didn't prepare for white-ball, I prepared for all cricket. I desperately wanted to experience all this, with Stokesy and Brendon, so I'm pleased I've stuck with it. And I'm pleased we won here. I'd have been gutted if we'd won, I'd come in, and we'd lost. They'd have been pointing fingers at me!"
Having only bowled in four-over stints since March, Wood felt "knackered" after 32.5 overs on a flat pitch. An appearance in the third Test, which begins in Karachi on Saturday, will largely depend on how he recovers over the next four days.
For now, being back around the Test squad - the format he revers most - is something to cherish. And like the rest of the dressing room, the feats of Pakistan are there to savour, though it might only be down the line that they fully appreciate just how well they have performed out here.
"The word in the dressing room is we want to entertain and do things differently. So to do it differently and write it in the history books is a fantastic feeling - especially here, because nobody comes here and does this. It has not sunk in yet but in a few days' time, thinking about it over Christmas, we will think what a fantastic achievement it is, winning in Pakistan."
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo