'It's not just potential now' - Mark Wood

While not yet fully fit from injury, England quick knows he can step up when his time comes again

George Dobell
George Dobell
Mark Wood in action during an England nets session ahead of the 1st Test Match against South Africa at SuperSport Park, December 24, 2019

Mark Wood in action during an England nets session  •  Getty Images

Mark Wood is used to sitting on the sidelines. Injury has been such a regular companion during his career that, here we are on his 30th birthday, and he has played fewer first-class or T20 games than Sam Curran, who is 21.
But this time, at least, the frustration is abated by the satisfaction of achievement. Whatever happens in the remainder of his life, Wood will always be a World Cup winner. And with 18 wickets in the tournament - only Jofra Archer took more for England - he knows he played a significant part in the victory.
More than that, he has also proved his value at Test level. Last February, he produced a blistering spell of pace bowling - the Telegraph's Scyld Berry, who may well have watched more days of England Test cricket than anyone in history, reckoned it was the fastest he had seen by an England bowler - to claim a maiden Test five-for and put England on course for victory over West Indies.
The problem is, Wood has not played a Test since. And his last game at any level was the World Cup final on July 14. Knowing he had sustained a side strain during the game, he took the decision to complete his spell - his team needed him and the game was on a knife-edge - in full knowledge that by doing so he risked exacerbating the problem. The fact that, six months later, he has yet to return demonstrates the consequences.
It's still not 100 percent. Which is disappointing bearing in mind another Test starts on Thursday and England know they will be without James Anderson. There's no certainty that Archer, who missed the last match with a sore elbow, will be ready to return, either. So if Wood was fully fit, he could probably be confident of playing.
Wood hasn't yet built up the volume of overs required to be confident of getting through another Test. And, given that he has also had knee surgery since the World Cup and his ankle has been operated on so often it should be fitted with a zipper, it seems unlikely the England management will take any risks with him. For that reason, it may be that his return is postponed to the final Test in Johannesburg at the earliest.
"I wouldn't say that I'm 100 percent because I haven't bowled the full amount of overs that I should have," Wood said from Port Elizabeth on Saturday. "I got through 35 overs last week, which is probably similar to a Test match week, but having not bowled competitively since the World Cup, I have to keep building.
"Jo'burg might suit me better. It is at altitude and it is a bit of a bouncier pitch. But Port Elizabeth does reverse swing so that could bring me to the fore. Hopefully I'll be ready if needed.
"If I'm honest I think Jofra and Chris Woakes are ahead of me in the pecking order. Jofra got five wickets in the first game and Woakesy did really well in the warm-up games and out in New Zealand."
"It's not just potential now. I know I can perform. I know now I can deliver if called upon."
Mark Wood
Despite this frustration, Wood says he is "much happier within myself".
"I'm not even in the team at the minute but I feel much happier within myself," he says. "I feel I'm an England cricketer rather than just someone that's always pushing to try and get into the team. I feel a slightly different cricketer to what I did before.
"I have the World Cup and the St Lucia Test under my belt. The West Indies was a huge trip for me. I really felt I was in the last chance saloon; I'd had a lot of injuries.
"I have felt that if I get fit then there's no reason why I can't do that again. The St Lucia Test is lodged in my mind as one of the best days I've had. If I can replicate that I'll be pretty happy.
"And confidence is a massive thing. Now I know that I can do it. There's been games where I've played for England where I shouldn't have played and that's affected my record and my confidence. With those good performances and having some success under my belt, it means that I can go into rehab knowing how it feels when it's good.
"It's not just potential now. I know I can perform. I know now I can deliver if called upon."
The prospect of Wood and Archer bowling together in Test cricket is mouthwatering. During the World Cup, with both keen to bowl the fastest delivery, they seemed to spur each other on. And while Archer bowled more deliveries over 90 mph, it was Wood who bowled the fastest single deliveries. Albeit, with consequences.
"I do like the idea of the two of us operating together in a Test match," Wood said. "As long as he's not at mid-off asking me if I'm just warming up when I've bent my back.
"Playing alongside him did spur me on so maybe it will help. We have a friendly rivalry over the speed gun. In the World Cup when I put one up on the speed gun that was quite quick I'd just look over to Jofra and give him a little wink. Then he'd do the same to me.
"In the World Cup final I knew that I'd pipped him. I was clocked at 95.7 mph and he was 95.6 mph and as we came off the field and into the dressing room I was dying to tell him.
"I said to him as he walked in 'Jofra! I've got you! I've done you on the speed gun' and he strolled past fresh as a daisy and looked me up and down with an ice pack on my side, an ice pack on my knee and an ice pack on my ankle and just said 'yeah but I think I'd rather be me'. I was like 'yeah, fair enough mate.'
"Deep down he's trying to prove that he's the meanest, toughest fast bowler out there. And so am I. We both want each other to do well, but we both want to be the quickest guy on show. But he's more talented than I am."
He may well be. But the possibility of the pair of them in tandem is something every England cricket lover - perhaps even every cricket lover - would love to see. They might even prove to be the fastest pair of England seamers ever to bowl together in a Test.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo