Chris Wood finds his belief as Hampshire prepare to take the Final step

After numerous near-misses on Finals Day, astonishing 2021 turnaround gives hope

Cameron Ponsonby
Chris Wood is Hampshire's leading wicket-taker in T20s  •  Getty Images

Chris Wood is Hampshire's leading wicket-taker in T20s  •  Getty Images

Athletes believe. They believe to a sickening extent. Panting sweatily down a camera, a chiselled Adonis explains that their most recent heroic performance was down to never giving up. That they dug deeper than ever before, that they found another level they didn't know existed and that if you too don't stop believing you can also take the midnight train going anywhere.
On three separate occasions in this year's T20 Blast, Hampshire were dead and buried. After six group games, they'd lost five and were statistically one of the worst teams in the competition over the previous three years. A frank dressing room conversation followed and a miraculous turnaround of five wins from five was the result. In their final group game, they had to chase 185 in 14 overs to be in with a chance of qualification and then rely on other results going their way. Mother Cricket looked upon their hard work and said it was good. And then in their quarter-final against Nottinghamshire, defending a paltry 123 with their opponents cruising at 66 for 1, the miracle wand was waved once more time to see them win a thriller by just two runs. Rejoice, for Hampshire have risen.
So, did seamer and Hampshire's leading T20 wicket-taker Chris Wood always believe?
"I think we felt most out of it in the quarter-final. In the group stages, because we'd tried our utmost to throw it away at the start of the comp, it'd got to that stage of what will be will be. But when you actually get to Nottingham and you're actually in a quarter-final and you're one game away from Finals Day? Pfff...I've played in a few but I think that's the most bizarre game I've ever played in.
"I think we're in the back of their minds if I'm totally honest. I think because we've beaten them three times in quarter-finals over the last ten years and won from positions we shouldn't, that it's just in their mind a little."
It's a surprise that Wood references the influence of previous mental scars, as it's an intangible that most would point at Hampshire for being most likely to suffer from. Since winning the competition in 2010 and 2012, Hampshire have lost four semi-finals, the most recent being in 2017.
"I think it's different for everybody, but I'll be totally honest it does nag in my mind a little." Wood tails off a bit before continuing, "well, we're off to Birmingham now for the fifth Finals Day [since 2012] and we've tried five different hotels, so it's certainly playing in the mind of someone!"
Of course, the flip side of this is that it shows Hampshire have historically been a strong T20 side. You can only lose at Finals Day by getting there in the first place. Four years have passed since their previous semi-final appearance so a new group of players now exist in the dressing room who are scar-free. And for those where the scars remain? So do trophies.
We're off to Birmingham now for the fifth Finals Day [since 2012] and we've tried five different hotels, so it's certainly playing in the mind of someone!
Chris Wood faces up to Hampshire's semi-final hoodoo
Wood himself has won four white-ball trophies with Hampshire, Mason Crane won the one-day cup in 2018, this will be Liam Dawson's eighth Finals Day to accompany the same four domestic titles as Wood. And as for James Vince? Wood whispers quietly so not to jinx it, but a statistical rumour has been doing the rounds in the dressing room that Vince has won every final that he's participated in his career. Hampshire just have to get past that pesky semi-final first.
The result is a Hampshire dressing room operating with a combination of grizzled pessimism and carefree disbelief. "Here we go again", mixed in with, "how are we even here?"
Wood has also been playing this season with a refreshed mentality for altogether different reasons.
Last year, Wood publicly revealed that he had been battling a long-term addiction with gambling and we spend a long time talking about the process of recovery and his renewed enjoyment of playing the sport he once loved, and now does so again.
"Before there were times I wasn't really enjoying it or my mind was on other things. Whereas now I'm actually giving 100% and loving playing cricket again.
"The reason I enjoy talking about it is because the more I talk about it the more it's keeping me safe. All the time I'm speaking to you about my experiences it's safeguarding me into the future."
Wood is now combining his cricket with work for EPIC Risk Management, a consultancy that aims to educate and prevent gambling addiction.
"It's helping others understand that there's a new way of living after addiction. Because that's why people get so caught up, it's the fear of what others will say and I want to help take that away from it."
The role ego plays in recovery is something Wood speaks on particularly well. And how the stubborn mindset of the professional athlete, that unrelenting belief, has both hindered and helped his recovery.
"When I was an addict and thinking I could just do it on my own and stop whenever I wanted. It was all this competitive nature that's just ingrained in me from my cricket.
"But as you move forward and your competitive nature kicks in and you realise you don't need to gamble anymore to change the way you feel or give you that buzz, it kind of flips the other way, and you're so competitive to make sure you never do it again."
Wood explains the difference between then and now is that whilst he still has the option to gamble everyday, he now has the option not to. However, once Finals Day is over, another challenge lies ahead. Wood is set to have surgery again on a knee that has caused him trouble for years. The two previous times he has had the surgery, the period of rehab that followed led to the toughest experiences he's had with addiction. Unable to move and unable to play cricket, the mind wanders. It's a challenge he knows lies ahead and he's preparing for. However, whilst the surgery may be the same as years ago, Wood isn't and neither are those who he has around him.
Wood is engaged and planning to get married in October next year, depending on "if we get off our backsides and find a venue". He also has a daughter who is approaching 18 months old.
"If you'd asked me two-and-a-half years ago if I'd have a daughter and a fiancée I'd have said never. But actually, to sit back now and be loving and enjoying life again with an 18-month old girl. It's the best feeling I've ever experienced in all of my cricket and beyond."
Wood believes. And of course he does, he is an athlete after all.

Cameron Ponsonby is a freelance cricket writer in London. @cameronponsonby