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‘Why Am I Playing With These Lads? Is It A Charity Game Or Summat?’

Phil Walker by Phil Walker

Mark Wood is a little bit different. Northern, sparky, teetotal, a little bit silly and extremely fast, his emergence this year as an England international, culminating in the Ashes-clinching wicket at Trent Bridge, has more than a touch of the fairytale about it. The quickest English bowler of his era talks speed, Stokes, mischief and Metallica with Phil Walker and asks, not impertinently, “Are you flirting with us now?” 

Six months ago you were on your first tour with England, doing a lot of net bowling in the West Indies, now you’re an Ashes winner who took the wicket that won it. What’s happened there?

Incredible, incredible.

Can you get you head round it?

Not really! I’d go back even further than that and say this time last year – I’ve come back from injury and tried to get into the Durham team for the Lord’s final and not quite been fit enough to make it, so by the end of 2014 I wasn’t even playing first team cricket for Durham. So to roll a year on, and to say that I’ll be an Ashes winner and to have played for England for six months, it’s just incredible. It’s all come on the back of the Lions tour [to South Africa, early 2015] where I had a great tour, so I’m really looking forward to going back there later in the winter.

What’s international cricket taught you so far?

That it’s tough, that it’s mentally drainin’. You test yourself against the best but if you put the hard work in you get the rewards. The intensity of international cricket’s a lot different to what I was used to, I wasn’t used to the hype and the pressures that it brings, but I wouldn’t change it for the world because it’s a great feeling when you have days like I had against New Zealand, and the one-dayers, and of course the Ashes. All in all it’s been a mind-blowing year. 

"A mind-blowing year"

“A mind-blowing year”

What’s it like in the days between the matches? Can you relax? 

You try to wind down but it’s not easy. It can take it out of you physically if you’ve bowled a lot of overs, and mentally if you’ve been concentrating so hard against the best players, day in day out, but that’s why it’s called Test cricket, it’s not meant to be easy. I just try and get away from it, spend time with friends and family, or if we’re still together as a team, more often than not I go to the cinema with Stokesy, or have a laugh and go off and do summat stupid. He’s normally the instigator. 

You say he’s the instigator? 

I’m gonna say yes in this interview… 

How’s it impacted on your day-to-day life? 

I’m getting recognised a lot more, and people asking us for an autograph, which I still find bizarre like. I cannot think it’s happening to me, know what I mean? And my friends are lovin’ it, every new bit of England gear they can get, and getting the hospitality stuff at Lord’s, and they had a great time at the Oval [after the Ashes win], getting in the ice baths and drinking champagne in the dressing room and swapping tips with Alastair Cook – they had an absolute ball of a time. Me mam and dad cannot believe it either. They’re just really proud of us and how far I’ve come, to be involved in two of the toughest series against two of the toughest teams.

Juggling like a pro, an out-of-practice pro, at our AOC shoot

Juggling like a pro, an out-of-practice pro, at our AOC shoot

And now you look back, how do you think you performed?

I thought I held my own. I didn’t have an outstanding time but I certainly didn’t do terrible.

Did you think beforehand that you had what it took?

Nah, probably not. I don’t think you ever really know if you can stand up until you have to. I felt as a character I could do it, but even when I first went on Lions tours, they involved the likes of Liam Plunkett, and now I’m playing with Cook, Bell, Anderson, people I’ve watched on the telly, and I was thinking, why am I playing cricket with these lads? Is it a charity game or summat? But it’s phenomenal. I never thought I’d be good enough, but once you get a taste of it you want more, and then when you have success you start to believe more and more that you belong.

And, as ever, having some fun

And, as ever, having some fun

And the dressing room? It seems like one of the most approachable England teams we’ve seen in quite a while. 

We enjoy each other’s company. I think Paul Farbrace deserves a lot of credit for getting us to go out and express ourselves, he’s a fantastic bloke and he really gets the best out of the likes of me and Stokesy by not messing with the fear element. I’m free to try and take wickets and [it’s not an issue] if I’m perhaps be a little bit more expensive, or if Stokesy gets out playing a rash shot we know we’ve got the backing of the management. Andrew Strauss outlined what he was looking for when he came to power, he was looking for an England that was more approachable to fans and the media. 

So Strauss categorically said that? 

Yeah, he said, ‘Look, we’ve got to make people proud, we’ve got to make people want to watch us, to share in our success, because that will bring more kids into the game.’ You saw it with the ex-players coming in to the dressing room – as you saw with Botham after the Cardiff game – to talk to us about their time playing for England. That sort of relationship brings everyone closer together, so you’re fighting the same battles, and supporters, players, media, management are all on the same page. 

"We've got to make people proud"

“We’ve got to make people proud”

You’re in the team because you bowl fast, properly fast. Through the air as fast as any English bowler in many years. Were you always rapid? Even at 14, 15? 

Nah, I was more of a batter as a kid, and I used to bowl little away-swingers, medium-pacers. But I had a little growth spurt when I was 16, and the year after that I put on a little bit of pace, and then I developed my action a bit – [I was] someone who used to be very side-on which allowed us to hoop the ball, but as I got naturally stronger I did some work to straighten my action up a bit, and I put on another yard of pace. That whippy delivery, I’ve always had it, and I’ve had to rely on that because I’m not very tall. That skiddy style is what makes me different. 

Is there one particular aspect that generates this extreme pace?

I think it’s a combination of things. People mention Allan Donald, the way he used to bowl. Apparently my front knee, which is braced when I deliver, is very similar to his, but mine actually hyper-extends back towards the floor, so I guess that allows for the flexibility. And it’s timing as well – I’ve got this whippy arm, but the longer I can delay my arm coming over, and apparently mine has quite a delay, the more speed it generates. But then when you think of the perfect fast bowling action you’d probably think of Brett Lee, and I don’t bowl anything like him! Everyone’s slightly different in their mechanics. And you’ve gotta have a little bit of spark and fight in you. You’ve gotta get in a battle with the batsman. It’s no good being a friendly fast bowler.

"Are you flirting with us now?"

“Are you flirting with us now?”

But you’re a nice, friendly bloke, so what changes? Do you have to wind yourself up?

I normally listen to music before I go out.

What do you listen to?

A bit dancey and upbeat to get the adrenaline pumping, or something heavy like Metallica if I wanna smash something and bowl really fast…

And after the day is done? 

It’s gotta be something a little bit softer so Tutti Frutti or summat! But I don’t have to get in a battle with the batsman – I don’t have to sledge ‘em, I just know that as long as I promote good body language and I’m always ‘at’ the batter, then I know that’s what I need to do. But if someone has a go at us on the field then I’m not gonna back down – you’ve gotta stick up for yourself.

The horse gets a ride

The horse gets a ride

What’s the best ball you’ve bowled?

The bouncer to BJ Watling when we were chasing the game at Lord’s after they’d got a partnership going. I’d like to think that’s the sort of delivery I can bring, something out of nothing. And the one I enjoyed the most was the Hazlewood yorker at Trent Bridge because I set that one up and executed it well. 

You bowled fast at Trent Bridge on that crazy morning, and cut Warner in half to get him out. You seemed to have Warner in your back pocket…

He seemed to attack me. The likes of Broad and Anderson, he left them well and was a lot more cautious, but as soon as I came on he tried to attack us! Obviously it played into my hands. But the one I was really pleased with was McCullum, I managed to get him out four or five times, and he’s someone that you see on the telly and think, ‘How am I gonna bowl at this guy?’ So when you get them out a few times it really gives you that confidence to know that you can get rid of the best players.

You seem bigger now than when you first came into the England set-up. Have you bulked up?

I mean, are you flirting with us now? Is that what we’re doing here? Nah… I’ve had to do a lot of stuff in the gym to be a bit more robust, the frame I had a few years ago isn’t too dissimilar to what I’ve got now but I’ve got a bit stronger, I’ve been working hard to try and stay on the field more. But I don’t want to put on too much weight because then I lose my whip, so I want to make sure I keep my pace and whip but with enough strength to stand up to the rigours of Test match cricket.

He's keeping a lot of balls in the air

He’s keeping a lot of balls in the air

In light of the injuries you’ve had, where are you at now with your body?

Really good, apart from my ankle, which is a chronic problem that I’ve had for a while, a problem I had last year with Durham. The England physio Ben Langley sorted us out for the [Lions] tour to South Africa, but now it’s turned into a slightly different problem in my ankle where I’ve got a little bit of a bone spur, but I can get through with treatment and pills but there will come a time when I might need something done. At the minute I can manage it but if I keep bowling and I snap, then something needs to be done. It’s not a problem where if I keep bowling it’s gonna ruin my career, it’s totally a pain thing, so if it stops me bowling at my best and my speeds are down, or if I’m having to bowl with a bent front leg because it’s too painful, then that’s when I’ll need to get something done.

How can you improve?

I need to take more wickets! I’ve had a couple of missed opportunities here and there. And keeping my foot behind the line might help! To be brutally honest, that is something I need to work on this winter. In training I’m never even close [to the line], it must be the adrenaline of the occasion. I’ve also worked with Jimmy [Anderson] on the wobble seam, because that’s gonna be important in different conditions.

What’s the benefit of the wobble ball?

Basically, a standard seam-up ball allows it to swing, but the wobble seam allows it to nip off the seam either way in slight deviations, as a variation to your normal swing ball. If the pitch dictates it, or there’s not much swing there, the wobble ball’s something I can go to.

"If Steven Finn can get one, then surely I’ve got one in me…"

“If Steven Finn can get one, then surely I’ve got one in me…”

Finally, do you have a Test hundred in you?

I wouldn’t mind a Test fifty first like.

But as a nightwatchman, you’ve got to be in with a chance?

I hate that role! It’s the worst job in cricket. That and short-leg – I sympathise with them lads like. Nightwatchman’s good if you survive until the next morning but on the night-time when you can’t play any shots – that’s not great. You feel like you’re just a standing target. I would love to get a Test fifty first, and then hopefully move up the order. If Steven Finn can get one, then surely I’ve got one in me…

Follow @PhilWalkerAOC

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