Wood keeps his England dream alive

Mark Wood enjoyed a successful return for England in the first ODI against Ireland but he admitted his uncertainty after coming back from a third ankle operation

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Mark Wood struck on his return to England colours  •  Getty Images

Mark Wood struck on his return to England colours  •  Getty Images

On Friday in Bristol, Mark Wood did what fast bowlers like to do: zipped one through a batsman at close to 90mph, shattering the stumps. But there was added significance for Wood when he removed Paul Stirling because he feared he may never get the chance to do it again.
A third ankle operation within a year followed by a rehabilitation that was slow and, at times, lonely allowed his mind to wander. "I thought the dream was gone at times," he said after a successful comeback outing against Ireland.
It was a million miles away from the joy of claiming the Ashes-clinching wicket at Trent Bridge in 2015. That was, of course, "Stuart Broad's Test" but Wood will always be the man who claimed the final scalp of Nathan Lyon to spark celebrations. Since then, though, joy at international level has been fleeting for him: three more Tests - the same number as surgeries he has had - and a handful of one-day internationals spread over two English seasons.
The first of his operations came at the end of 2015 when he left the Test series against Pakistan in the UAE, the second early in the 2016 season and the third at the end of the summer after, gallingly, putting his body on the line to earn Durham a Championship victory that appeared to secure their Division One status only for ECB sanctions to mean otherwise.
Three operations on the same part of the body, especially one so crucial to a fast bowler who relies on an explosive delivery stride at the crease, led to a player outwardly so cheerful and upbeat as Wood to have doubts. It was not helped when two possible comeback dates - the one-day series in the West Indies and a Lions tour of Sri Lanka - came and went.
"I had questioned at times whether I would actually ever play for England again," he said. "After the first two operations, I always believed I would get back but then this one, because it [the recovery] didn't happen at the same rate as it did previously, I was a little bit unsure if I would ever get back to the standard I wanted to set and the pace I wanted to bowl at. It just took a little bit longer than I expected, but it's good to finally get there."
Wood said he did not feel any pain in Bristol because the adrenalin was surging through his body, but the concerns over his ankle had remained as recently as last month when finishing pre-season with Durham. They manifested themselves more so when he was bowling on his own at a set of stumps and he spent time with the England psychologist, although it wasn't until he had got through a few spells at the start of the Championship season that his worries were eased.
In the most recent of those four-day matches, against Gloucestershire, he tweaked his groin, but he called that "a blessing" because it stopped him thinking about the ankle.
"The physios were telling us 'it's normal to feel pain, you're sensitive in that area'. When I am going to nets by myself and having to bowl at cones and stuff, you're not in the game scenario, the adrenaline's not pumping. I'm looking for my ankle, 'is that niggling, is that hurting?' If I feel anything I could bowl five overs but if I felt one ball, I'd be thinking 'why is this still hurting?'
"Now it's sort of changed. I spoke with the England psychologist and it was to change my mindset. Rather than looking for pain, [it is] can I still perform with a small amount of pain there? So now, if it doesn't affect my performance then I am happy. If it was ever to affect my front leg position, if it's not braced, then I'd be a little bit unhappy but now I deal with it a lot better."
Wood accepts he will probably never be pain free and the ankle will trouble him from time to time. He has had special bowling boots designed to try to stop his front ankle rolling when it slams down in the delivery stride and has also worked with Kevin Shine, the ECB's lead fast bowling coach, to try and to ensure the leg and foot come through straight rather that splaying to the left and putting pressure on the ankle.
He also acknowledges that he probably can't play every game, but just a short time on from wondering if he would bowl for England again now believes he can withstand the demanding schedule ahead to play a part in Test cricket - including the Ashes - once more.
"If you ask me now, I am confident. If you'd asked me before the Durham Championship games, I might have been not sure about how it was going to go. I'm pretty confident now I could get through any sort of international cricket be it Test, one-day or Twenty20.
"I wouldn't say it's honestly ever going to be totally pain free, I think that's just the trouble I've had - three operations and the way that I bowl, it's just going to flare up from time to time. Hopefully, that's the end of the major pain. I haven't got any bones left in there that are sticking out or anything like that. I'm held together with a bit of tape pretty well."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo