Sunday 18 March 2018

Wood plays through pain to get back

England's Mark Wood. Photo: Paul Childs/Action Images via Reuters
England's Mark Wood. Photo: Paul Childs/Action Images via Reuters

Scyld Berry

Even if England's second one-day international against Ireland is as much of a walkover as the first - and the 20,000 spectators at Lord's will be hoping that England bat first this time so the game is a contest for more than a few overs - the match will be anything but a formality for their fast bowler Mark Wood.

Wood has had three serious operations on his left ankle or, as the man who can impersonate a horse cantering round the field calls it, his "reconstructed hoof". He has a specially-made boot to cushion the impact, and bowling is a constant pain, except when the adrenalin is flooding his system - as it did on Friday when he took his first wicket for England since last September. But at least he is back doing what he loves, and what he had feared he might never do again.

"I thought the dream was gone at times," Wood admitted. "When you try and rush back, and it's not happening at the speed you want it to, you think is it ever going to happen again?

"I had questioned at times whether I would actually ever play for England again. After the first two operations, I always believed I would get back but then this one, because it [the rehabilitation] 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.

"I was very nervous, actually, in my first over and I had to tell myself 'relax'. Then, after my first over, I was into the game and I was fine after that so I'm absolutely delighted to be back."

England supporters feel likewise: nobody conveys happiness at simply being able to play cricket on a summer's day as much as Wood, even though bowling fast is a pain. "I spoke with the England psychologist and it was to change my mindset. Rather than looking for pain, can I perform with a small amount of pain there? So now, if it doesn't affect my performance then I am happy."

The standard press conference by an England cricketer is seldom a revelation: he says he was "disappointed" to get out and it was "not ideal" to lose by an innings and 300 runs. Wood, on the other hand, has given an insight into the depths of doubt to which a sportsman can sink when afflicted by an injury which threatens his career, with all the financial implications for his wife and family.

"I wouldn't say it's honestly ever going to be totally pain-free. 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 Sellotape and a bit of tape pretty well."

It was a major step in Wood's comeback to come through 66 overs in his two four-day games for Durham, even though he suffered a groin strain.

Wood's return, and ability to take the new ball for England even though he does not do it for Durham, puts pressure on his opening partner David Willey. If everyone is fit for the Champions Trophy, England's first-choice pace attack looks like being Wood, Chris Woakes, Liam Plunkett and Ben Stokes. Except, if the pitch is a green seamer - which the ICC, as organisers of the tournament, will not permit - they will be supported by England's pair of contrasting spinners, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, although Rashid will never find wickets as easy to haul in as he did with his googly against Ireland on Friday.


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