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News

Mark Wood prepares to pit his pace against 'battle-hardened' IPL stars

Fast bowler emboldened by displays from Archer, Nortje, Rabada in the UAE this year

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
03-Nov-2020
Mark Wood celebrates another England breakthrough, England v Australia, 1st ODI, Old Trafford, September 11, 2020

Mark Wood celebrates another England breakthrough  •  Getty Images

Mark Wood says he is looking forward to spending more time out in the middle and less time "counting pictures on the walls", after being named in both squads for England's forthcoming limited-overs tour of South Africa - a trip on which he hopes to reaffirm the value of raw pace in T20I cricket, following the stand-out performances of Jofra Archer, Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada at this year's IPL.
Wood, 30, endured a frustrating home summer in 2020, in which he featured in just the first of England's six Tests against West Indies and Pakistan, and was subsequently overlooked for a Test contract at end of September. Addressing that issue last week, he warned that he may have to consider becoming a white-ball specialist in order to manage his priorities in the latter part of his career, especially given his long history of ankle injuries.
However, speaking at the launch of #Funds4Runs, a new ECB and LV= grassroots initiative, Wood insisted he was relishing the return to England bubble life - with the players set to arrive in South Africa on November 17 ahead of three T20Is and three ODIs from November 27 to December 9 - and that he was still committed to all three formats despite missing out on a red-ball deal, particularly with England's next Ashes tour looming in just under 12 months' time.
"I obviously love playing for England," Wood said. "But at the minute, that's the route they've gone down, and I'll have to prove again that, if selected, I can do the business. Hopefully in the future the rewards come, and if they don't, then I'll reassess and see where my cricket lies.
"I'd like to play all three formats, but [white-ball only] is something in the future I might have to think about," he added. "Looking at my body … I've got a young family, spending time away from home … things like that. But growing up, I always wanted to play for England across all formats, no matter what it was, so I'm still trying to chase that dream."
Although there was never much doubt that Wood would get the call for South Africa, he did admit to a degree of relief when the selection was announced, given that his last white-ball display in the country, back in February, didn't go entirely to plan. Coming off the back of his successful return to the Test team, in which he was named player of the match after a rapid nine-wicket display in the series decider at Johannesburg, Wood's four wickets in the T20Is came at a cost of almost two runs a ball as he struggled to make the adjustment from red ball to white.
"Sometimes you have to sacrifice little bits of training because, if you're solely focused on one format, then you can put all your effort into that," Wood said. "I didn't bowl well in South Africa last time, so I've got a point to prove this time and, hopefully, I can keep up with the battle-hardened players that have been in the IPL."
Few are as battle-hardened as the trio of quicks who have lit up the tournament in the UAE. With a focus on speed over variations at this year's event, Rabada and Nortje have formed an at-times irresistible alliance for Delhi Capitals in their run to the play-offs, claiming 25 and 19 wickets respectively, while Archer has taken 20 wickets at an economy rate of 6.55, a return that kept Rajasthan Royals competitive to the bitter end despite them finishing at the foot of the table.
And while Wood opted out of any involvement in this year's IPL, due to his lengthy time in the English summer bubbles, he admits he has half an eye on the next event in the New Year, and recognises that a big performance this winter could well earn him a lucrative call-up, given how in vogue 90mph-plus bowlers currently are.
"To have two English lads come across, me and Jofra, against the two South African lads in the upcoming series, I think it'll be quite exciting to see how we both combat each other," he said. "The game has moved on so much. You need the variations but ultimately, if you get it right at that speed, then it's hard to deal with. Of course, if you get it wrong at that speed, it can go very wrong, so it is fine margins, but it's nice to see it's not just the spinners that can have a massive impact on T20 cricket."
Wood's only previous involvement in the IPL was a one-off outing for Chennai Super Kings against Mumbai Indians in the 2018 event - he conceded 49 runs in four wicketless overs and did not feature again. But given that the 2021 IPL may yet have to take place in the UAE as well due to Covid-19, he knows the franchises could yet come calling in the new year.
"The pace lads have had a great impact this IPL," he said. "I had a small chance to go this year but the timings didn't quite fit. But if it comes around again, I can maybe prove my worth better than the one game I had for Chennai a couple of years ago.
"It's very hard to get into the IPL because there's so many good local players, never mind international players," he added. "It is the hardest competition, but if I can get in, it'll only help me for England as well, because it's all about pressure situations. Regardless of whether it's in India or the UAE, it's still a fantastic competition to be a part of and one which I hope I can be."
However, any such ambition further down the line will doubtless depend on Wood making his mark for England once again, as he braces for a return to life in the bubble.
"We were looked after brilliantly in Southampton and Manchester, and I'm sure South Africa will be just the same," he said. "Mental health is very important, but now we know what it's going to be about, we can hopefully cope with it. It will help being in sunny weather in a nice hotel, I'm sure, but if we see someone struggling, the support network is there.
"I'm ready to go back in, I think," he added. "Previously it was a bit into the unknown, but you get used to it. I know now what to take, and what will keep us occupied, so I'm looking forward to getting back out there and trying some cricket, and hopefully not counting too many pictures on the walls this time."
#Funds4Runs is a £1million investment pot jointly funded by ECB and LV= General Insurance which will help support grassroots cricket communities impacted by COVID-19. Register your interest at ecb.co.uk/funds4runs or more info at https://www.lv.com/gi/cricket

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket