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Mark Wood focussed 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 fiery display of match-winning fast bowling in the third T20I in Karachi, but said workload management remains his priority as England build towards the main event of the winter, next month’s T20 World Cup in Australia.

England’s need for raw pace had been shown in their chastening loss in the second T20I on Thursday night, with Babar Azam and Mohammad Hafeez posting a world-record opening stand of 203 to seal the match for Pakistan by ten wickets. Yet Wood was a surprise inclusion in England’s XI for the rematch 24 hours later, having undergone two bouts of elbow surgery this year and had played a solitary club game for Ashington since pulling out of England’s Test tour of the Caribbean in March.

It was a crucial pick, however, as Wood hit 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 rushed by a wild bouncer in Wood’s first over before he fenced 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 want to rest and be good again, hopefully in the future . The challenge now is obviously to back it up. Can I keep those speeds going?”

Wood acknowledged the atmosphere at the National Stadium was a big factor in his performance as he took to the pitch with a real sense of occasion spurring him on. Haider Ali was blasted off the crease off the first ball of his second over to leave Pakistan in disarray at 21 for 3 and when Haris Rauf bowled another short ball to cover at the death, he had proved the local saying “pace is tempo yaar “ remains a timeless one.

“It was loud,” he said. “They know their cricket here and very supportive. I don’t know if the cheer was 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. Toppers [Topley] bowled a great over before I came on and it gave me an opportunity to try and be a bit more attacking with my bowling.

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

When Wood will repeat it remains to be seen. With England’s next game fast approaching on Sunday, it seems likely that he will sit out and continue his comeback in Lahore next week as 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 will surely be a key asset in the attack.

“My body feels okay,” he said. “I’ll probably live off an ice cream machine now. We’ll have an off day tomorrow, with not much on, and then get ready for the next game. I don’t know what the squad will be for the next game, or after that. What’s important for me is that I don’t want to go too hard every now and then, I’m not ready for Australia, I have to peak at the right time and when it comes to the 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 I actually felt pretty good heading into it. I’ve been running a lot of time in the gym, a lot of running, but nothing like playing a game. So it was just a different intensity But I’m absolutely fine.”

It’s a much-changed team that Wood has returned to, with Eoin Morgan retired and a number of familiar team-mates missing for various 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 impact on the pitch and his presence in the dressing room.

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

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

“The other night, instead of 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 realized that maybe we could bowled a few more short balls. or went around the wicket with left arms. Just little things we could have done differently. It’s easy in hindsight, but that was the chat.”

Andrew Miller is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

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