Mark Wood focused on World Cup readiness despite stellar display on England return

After nearly seven months on the sidelines, Mark Wood marked his return to international cricket with a searing display of matchwinning fast bowling in the third T20I at Karachi, but said that workload management remains his priority as England build towards the winter’s main event, next month’s T20 World Cup in Australia.

England’s need for raw speed had been shown up in their chastening loss in the second T20I on Thursday night, in which Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan posted a world-record opening stand of 203 to seal the match for Pakistan by ten wickets. But even so, Wood was a surprise inclusion in England’s XI for the rematch 24 hours later, given that he underwent two bouts of elbow surgery this year, and had played a solitary club match for Ashington since withdrawing from England’s Test tour of the Caribbean in March.

It was, however, a decisive selection, as Wood touched speeds close to 97mph/156kph in a display that impressed Pakistan’s own pace-bowling royalty, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, in the commentary box. His figures of 3 for 24 included the crucial early scalp of Babar, Thursday’s centurion, who was hurried by a savage bouncer in Wood’s first over before fencing his fourth ball to Reece Topley at deep third for 8.

“You tend to be a bit fresh after seven months out,” Wood told Sky Sports afterwards. “It’s been a long time, and I felt very tired at the end. I know it’s only a T20, but it’s all the intensity of international cricket. But I’ll rest up and be good again, hopefully in the future. The challenge now is obviously to back it up. Can I keep those speeds going?”

The revved-up atmosphere within the National Stadium was, Wood acknowledged, a big factor in his performance, as he charged to the crease with a real sense of occasion spurring him on. Haider Ali was blasted out by the first ball of his second over to leave Pakistan in disarray at 21 for 3, and when Haris Rauf flapped another short ball to cover at the death, he had proven the local adage “pace is pace yaar” remains a timeless one.

“It was loud,” he said. “They are knowledgeable about their cricket here and very supportive. I don’t know if the cheers were for me or Babar or Rizwan, but they played really well the last game, so it was a big wicket to try and get them early doors. Toppers [Topley] bowled a fantastic over before I came on, and that allowed me to try and be a bit more attacking with my bowling.

“I’ve got plenty to work on,” he added. “Today was a good day, but you know what it’s like when you haven’t played for a while, the adrenaline’s flying, it’s like you’re making your debut all over again. The crowd was flying. So the challenge for me is the next one, can I can I repeat that?”

As to when Wood will repeat it, that remains to be seen. With England’s next match fast approaching on Sunday, it seems likely that he will sit that one out and continue his comeback in Lahore next week, given that the key date in his diary remains October 22, the start of England’s World Cup campaign, against Afghanistan in Perth, where his raw pace is sure to be a key asset in the attack.

“My body feels okay,” he said. “I’ll probably live on an ice machine now. We’ll have a down day tomorrow, with not much on, and then get ready for the next game. I don’t know what the selection is going to be for the next game, or after that. What’s important for me is that I don’t want to go too hard now and then I’m not ready for Australia. I’ve got to peak at the right time, and then when it comes to that World Cup, I’m fit and firing.

“I’m just a little bit tired,” Wood added. “It’s my first game in a while but actually I felt pretty good leading into it. I’ve done loads of time in the gym, lots of running, but nothing is the same as playing a game. So it was just a different intensity. But I’m absolutely fine.”

It’s a much-changed team that Wood has walked back into, with Eoin Morgan retired, and a host of familiar team-mates missing for a variety of reasons, not least his fellow World Cup winners, Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow. But, as Moeen Ali, England’s stand-in captain, said during the presentations, Wood remains a hugely valued member of the squad, both for his on-field impact and his presence in the dressing-room.

And, given the stellar displays from Harry Brook and Ben Duckett on Friday, Wood was able to give the vibe within that dressing-room a vote of confidence, especially in the wake of such a crushing loss on Thursday.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “To be able to walk into a dressing-room, feel that freedom, speak your mind, it says a lot about the group, and culture of the group.

“The other night, rather than being critical, we looked at what we thought we could do better. We just said ‘well played’ to those two guys, but I think we realised that maybe we could have bowled a few more short balls, or gone round the wicket with the left-armers. Just little things could we have done differently. It’s easy in hindsight, but that was the chat.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

(With Inputs from ESPN)

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