Mark Wood hoping he and Tymal Mills can 'bring the fire' for England
Mark Wood hopes to prove once again that two 90mph fast bowlers can make the difference in T20 cricket, as he and Tymal Mills prepare to dovetail in England's World Cup line-up, just as Wood and the injured Jofra Archer have done in previous campaigns.
Speaking from Oman, where the England squad have been warming up ahead of next week's tournament opener against West Indies, Wood admitted that he cannot feel 100% assured of a starting berth, but with Mills back in the reckoning, and in line for his first England appearance since 2017 and only his fifth overall, he was confident that their skills can complement one another.
"We're all competing for places here because there's only a certain amount of seamers that can play, but I don't feel like me and 'T' are in direct competition," Wood said. "We're all part of a squad here that's trying to win the World Cup, so we'll all be desperately trying to do that."
Wood, of course, has enjoyed that World Cup-winning feeling once before, claiming 18 wickets at 25.72 in England's 50-over triumph in 2019. And while Mills, like Archer, has a repertoire of slower balls that mean pace is not the be-all and end-all of his game, Wood recalled how a focus on the speed gun during that tournament helped to propel the two England quicks to greater heights - both he and Archer matched Australia's Mitchell Starc in bowling the fastest balls of the tournament at 154kph (95.7mph) - and said he hopes to get his juices flowing with Mills as well.
"It worked for me and Jofra, so me and T might have to keep it going," Wood said. "He's looked sharp in the nets, and to watch him, I certainly wouldn't want to face him. He's looking the business at the minute so hopefully he can bring some fire and I'll have to up my game as well."
Wood is conscious, however, of the need for subtlety as well as speed, especially given the prospect of some less-than-sympathetic tracks for fast bowlers in the UAE. The surfaces at Dubai and Abu Dhabi are likely to be tired ones following the conclusion of the IPL, while Sharjah - the venue for their final two group games, including South Africa on November 6 - is a notoriously tough places for the quicks, with its short boundaries and propensity for excess dew.
"[The conditions] put extra pressure on us to deliver, so we'll have to be up for the challenge," Wood said. "We do keep an eye on the pitches there, and it's not just the wickets, it's the dimensions - the field in Sharjah is quite small, Abu Dhabi is obviously wide. But it's good that we get a heads-up [through the IPL].
"My contribution might not just be in the wickets column," he added. "If it is a spinner's track, my role might be to keep it down as much as I can and then the spinners can attack from the other end. The thing you have to do is adapt within the game anyway."
It's potentially a far cry from the lively surfaces in Ahmedabad on which Wood impressed during England's 3-2 series loss in India in March - a campaign that had been earmarked as their World Cup sighter until the tournament had to be relocated to the UAE due to Covid. On that occasion, he was habitually unleashed as first-change after Archer, with a licence to attack the Powerplay - most notably with figures of 3 for 31 in an eight-wicket win in the third match at Ahmedabad.
"I think my role will be fairly similar," Wood said. "I'll be trying to attack and take wickets up-front and hopefully in the middle. We will have to adapt and assess conditions, but I still think, if I do play, that's how I'll be used.
"In India I did that well but also there was a game that didn't go well, which I got smacked in," he added, recalling his figures of 0 for 53 in the fifth and final match, as India sealed the series with a 36-run win. "If you get too far ahead of yourself, it can knock your confidence, so we'll try to stay as level as we can throughout the competition. We will all have good days and bad days, so it's just trying to make sure there's no stone unturned when it comes to the main stuff."
Wood's opportunities to hone his T20 skills have been few and far between in recent months. Though he bowled with pace against an outclassed Sri Lanka side in two T20Is in June, a bout of Covid during the summer kept him out of action during England's three-match series against Pakistan in July, while his involvement in England's Test bubble meant he was unable to feature either for Durham in the Vitality Blast or for London Spirit in the Hundred.
As a consequence, there has been a lot of focus on match scenarios in Oman, ahead of the team's relocation to Dubai on Saturday where they will play warm-up matches against India and New Zealand. "We've been practising Super Overs, practising single-ball events," Wood said. "Batters need six, batters need four, batters need two, batters need one … practising Powerplay overs. It's been a bit more specific than just nets and fielding."
In the absence of any game-time of his own, Wood said that he had been keeping tabs of the progress of South Africa's Anrich Nortje, whose raw pace transcended the tough UAE conditions in Delhi Capitals' advance to the IPL play-offs.
"He's bowled really well, he's bowled quickly, looking at his role if I can back that up and try to bowl like he has then I'm sure I can have success," Wood said.
There is plenty that remains unclear for England's World Cup plans - especially since their captain, Eoin Morgan, currently in action with Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL final, won't be linking up with the squad until their arrival in Dubai. But Wood has full faith in a group that has achieved unprecedented white-ball success for England in recent years, and believes a second piece of global silverware is firmly within their grasp.
"We've got a huge chance," he said. "We've got a great team. We've very similar players from the 50-over team to the Twenty20, and whoever's come in has got up to speed quickly, has got into the team ethos and values and the positive way we play. It's a good time now to cement something pretty special."