He may have bowled like lightning and taken two wickets in a game when almost all the bowlers excelled, and Sam Curran became the first Englishman to take a Twenty20 five-fer, but Mark Wood felt the most inspiring aspect of England’s performance in Saturday’s World Cup opener against Afghanistan was the fielding. A string of high-quality catches helped them take control of the game, and for Wood they amounted to a demonstration of teamwork and togetherness.
“We’re hunting as a pack to get the next wicket, you feel you’re together, people are moving well, there’s a bit of a buzz around the field, everyone’s running out of position,” he said. “I think in general you don’t want to get ahead of yourself but we felt ready for this game and now the challenge is, can we back it up?”
England next face two games in three days at the MCG in Melbourne, with Ireland waiting on Wednesday and Australia on Friday. The Irish emphatically lost their first game of the Super 12s against Sri Lanka on Sunday but England are expecting to be fully tested. “That’ll be a massive game because they’ll be right up for it, and we’re going to have to be just as up for it as them,” said Wood.
But it is the following match that stands out, particularly because given the extent of the hosts’ thrashing by New Zealand on Saturday it already looks crucial for their prospects of reaching the semi-finals. Wood described the prospect of knocking Australia out of their own competition as “a big motivation and not a big motivation at the same time.”
“They’re one of the strongest teams, if not the strongest, and we’d love to not have to play them later in the tournament if we can get through,” he added. “I wouldn’t think, ‘I want to knock Australia out.’ We focus on ourselves, but if it was to help us not have to play the best team later on then great.”
Wood’s spell at Perth Stadium was the fastest by any bowler in the history of the World Cup, partly because the 32-year-old is not yet confident enough in his slow balls to actually bowl any. “It’s something I’m working on,” he said. “They’re not great – I tried it in the practice game [against Pakistan last week] and it went horrendously – but if I feel it’s the right thing to do in a game I’ll give it a go and if it doesn’t come off, it doesn’t come off.”
Rashid Khan, Afghanistan’s spinner and inspiration, felt the game was part of a process of growth for a young side. “There was a nervousness in the team, but at the same time excitement,” he said. “Lots of players never played in Australia, and playing against a team like England, it’s a great excitement for the guys. We’ll have tough days but at the same time, in the next two or three years we will be one of the teams that is most improved.
“Maybe we are struggling a little bit with the batting and we need to improve it, but that comes when you play against the big teams.”