Mark Wood admits his Test career would have been a price worth paying to help England win the World Cup last summer, but is thrilled to be back.
Wood tore his side midway through his final over in the Lord’s showpiece last July, but gritted his teeth to finish his spell, completing his part in landing the trophy for the first time.
He has spent most of the last six months in recovery but earned a recall for this week’s third Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth, providing the tourists with the kind of bite that only genuine 90mph bowlers can offer.
Wood has had an eventful return, smashing five sixes with the bat, taking a fine catch on the fourth evening and claiming the first two wickets as South Africa slumped to 102 for six in their follow-on, 188 behind.
Should England avoid the rain long enough on day five to force through victory it would be a near perfect return, but Wood’s career-long fitness problems meant it was one he was not always banking on.
“It was the World Cup final, your dream match, so I didn’t want to walk off after 9.3 overs. But every ball I bowled it got worse, so I knew it was pretty bad,” he recalled.
“I would not swap that for the world, absolutely. To be a World Cup winner, I’d take that any day of the week, even if I didn’t play another game of Test cricket.
“I’ve always got that to look back on, those fond memories. That was the pinnacle of my career.
“With the way my body has been, it’s something you can’t take for granted, it could be my last game so just try to enjoy it out there.
“I’m not saying that because I’m hoying about cliches, that’s genuinely how it is.”
Wood’s slight frame and hectic action leave him prone to every day aches and pains as well as the longer term setbacks which have kept him to just 14 Test caps by the age of 30.
Yet when it comes together, as it did when he flattened Dean Elgar’s off stump or in his one-sided sparring session with the outgunned Zubayr Hamza, it all seems worth while.
“I’m wrapped up like a mummy on my left leg. Something is going to hurt eventually but that’s part and parcel of being a fast bowler,” he said.
“I love it. I’ve waited quite a while to come back so I was trying to have fun, take it all in and play with a smile on my face.”
Wood’s eventual wicket tally was improbably put in the shade by captain Joe Root, who picked up career-best figures of four for 31 with his off-breaks.
That put England within sight of the winning line but Wood was honest enough to accept two days of rain delays had left him fretting over the finale.
“I thought Africa was the sunniest place in the world and then I come and it’s like being back in Durham,” he said. “I think I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little bit worried.”
Proteas head coach Mark Boucher has even bigger concerns and was forced to fend off suggestions that he has taken over the worst South African Test team since readmission in 1991.
“That’s a big call but everyone is entitled to their opinion,” he said.
“I have been in teams where we’ve been pretty low. We are in a bad situation in this particular game but we are not out of the series yet.
“For me there’s no excuses. I need to find a way to get it right in a short period of time.”