Luke Wood braces for England ODI debut ... despite three-year 50-over drought

Lancashire seamer has never played a List A game for current club

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Luke Wood has played 20-over and 100-ball cricket in recent seasons, but no 50-over games since 2019  •  Getty Images

Luke Wood has played 20-over and 100-ball cricket in recent seasons, but no 50-over games since 2019  •  Getty Images

Luke Wood is set to make his England ODI debut in the Netherlands but has not played a 50-over game for three years. As such, his call-up to Matthew Mott's first white-ball squad for the three-match series which starts on Friday, squeezed in between the second and third New Zealand Tests, is a revealing moment.
Wood, a strapping left-arm seamer, has been on England's radar for some time - he is a former Under-19 international and was a reserve for January's T20I series in Barbados - but his involvement highlights the extent to which 50-over cricket has slipped down the list of priorities in English cricket since the 2019 World Cup.
"He has been consistent for Lancashire over the past 12 months and we have been monitoring his progression," Mott said when the squad was announced, but a telling fact was conspicuous by its absence: Wood has never actually played a 50-over game for Lancashire.
Since his List A debut in 2016, Wood has played only three more games of professional 50-over cricket, most recently for Nottinghamshire in May 2019. The depth of Notts' bowling attack and resultant lack of first-team opportunities was a major factor in Wood's decision to leave for Lancashire at the end of that season and his contract with Trent Rockets in the Hundred means he has only worn the Red Rose in first-class and T20 cricket.
In the two full seasons since his move to Old Trafford, none of England's best white-ball players have played a domestic 50-over game: the Royal London Cup was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic and clashed with the Hundred in 2021. It will do so again this summer and while the Professional Cricketers Association (PCA) are pushing for a change next year, it will prove hard to find room in a schedule that is already at breaking point.
"I know that I haven't played a 50-over game for three years," Wood tells ESPNcricinfo. "With the Hundred and the 50-over comp going on at the same time, a lot of people in the frame won't have played a lot of 50-over cricket recently unless it's at international level. If you look at the schedule, it's probably something you'll see more and more of, unless something changes."
And yet Wood is not unduly concerned by inexperience as a 50-over bowler: "It's very similar to T20 in a sense. Your skills are pretty much the same, it's just a longer period of time. I was away this winter [at the Abu Dhabi T10 and the PSL] and if you take into account the Hundred and the Blast, I've probably played more white-ball cricket in the last 12 months than I ever have in the past.
"I wouldn't say it's an issue. From an outsider's point of view, you might look at me having played four games and it might seem a bit confusing. But I think you've got to take white-ball cricket as a whole now, not just 50-over cricket and T20 cricket."
England have been forced to pick players along those lines, highlighting particular roles in their side and working out who is best-placed to fill them based predominantly on T20 performances. Wood - along with Brydon Carse, who impressed in England's ODI series against Pakistan last year - has been identified as a potential attacking threat in the middle overs in the Liam Plunkett role, despite the fact he largely bowls with the new ball for Lancashire in the Blast.
While less than ideal, England have coped previously with a domestic schedule that does not mirror the international game: between 2010 and 2013, the counties played a 40-over List A tournament rather than a 50-over one, a decision which had long-term benefits for young batters like Jos Buttler and Jason Roy who were still making their way in the game.
The shorter format forced that generation to play in a more attacking style, one which happened to mirror the one Eoin Morgan implemented after the 2015 World Cup. Nathan Leamon, England's white-ball analyst, wrote in his book Hitting Against The Spin with Ben Jones that it was "a happy accident" which shaped the development of "the finest collection of white-ball batsmen that England has ever produced".
But the contrast is clearly starker now and while there are transferrable skills in many roles - openers, finishers and new-ball bowlers, for example - the ECB are keen to create opportunities for talented players to play 50-over games: the Lions play two one-day fixtures against South Africa next month and are due to tour this winter, while the return of an annual North vs South series will be discussed as part of Andrew Strauss' high-performance review.
Mo Bobat, England's performance director, believes that Lions squads are the hardest to select of any and next month's selection will see short-term needs balanced with longer-term ambitions: some of the country's best young white-ball players such as Will Smeed and Tom Lammonby remain uncapped in List A cricket and will be considered for the South Africa fixtures.
In the short term, the Netherlands tour is likely to see Dawid Malan given an opportunity to bat at No. 3 and pitch his case to be Root's back-up in a full-strength squad, while Buttler looks set to move up the order - most likely to No. 4 - as England look to get the most out of the world's in-form white-ball batter.
There will also be opportunities for fringe seamers including Carse, Wood, Reece Topley and David Payne to impress the new hierarchy in the absence of several first-choice players due to injuries, with Mott highlighting death bowling as a "really key focus" for the series.
For Wood, the goal this week is straightforward: "I just want to try and show everyone what I'm about," he says. "Hopefully I can make my ODI debut and do well." If he does, he may be the first England player in the modern era to feature in an ODI with no List A track record to speak of; it seems unlikely that he will be the last.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98