South Africa v England: Frisky tortoises, chess & Great British Bake Off

Mark Wood

Some of the challenges of playing international sport during a global pandemic are well known. Others, like having to endure a long car journey with Paul Collingwood, are less so.

For the flight to South Africa, we were driven to Stansted airport in ones or twos. I got partnered with Colly for the trip from the north east.

Not only did he film me making a fool of myself playing Heads Up - the game that's a bit like charades - but he recorded videos of me when I was having a snooze. No wonder I fell asleep, the amount he talked about his coaching website. It was Colly's Coaching this and Colly's Coaching that.

Colly aside, it was great to meet up with the lads and the experience of travelling on a chartered flight was an unusual treat, like being a Premier League footballer.

Life in the bubble in Cape Town is very different to what we had in Southampton and Manchester this summer.

Whereas those grounds had hotels overlooking the pitch, our hotel in South Africa is away from the venues, so that allows you to switch off from cricket.

Not only that, but there's a little more to do and see. The wildlife is a good example. There are seven or eight tortoises roaming around and somehow our doctor, Moiz, keeps taking pictures of them getting frisky.

I don't know how he does it, because I haven't seen anything like that. He must be following them around.

There are also a few over-zealous squirrels, as physio Ben Langley found out over breakfast. After he fed one of them some toast, the squirrel took a shine to his flip-flop, phone and face mask, with a stand-off ensuing.

When I'm not seeing our backroom team get up close to nature, I've played a little bit of Mario Kart (the rest of the lads are still obsessed with Call of Duty), watched The Great British Bake Off final (me and my wife are big fans) and, inspired by the Netflix series The Queen's Gambit, I've taken an interest in chess.

I've played against Jos Buttler, who seems to win a lot. Moeen Ali and Zak Crawley, who isn't here, are both good players too.

Amid all of this, I've also been recording a podcast with comedian Miles Jupp. It's called Middle Please Umpire and it's out soon.

Mark Wood and Olly Stone
Mark Wood (left) keeps Olly Stone entertained during practice

On the field, because of coronavirus we've had to prepare between ourselves for the three Twenty20s and three one-day internationals.

Some of the lads thrive on trying to get one up on each other, but I struggle with it. Even though I'm very competitive, I want everyone in the team to do well.

That said, Jason Roy is not in my good books. During the T20 warm-up match, he took a couple of paces down the track and hit one back at me at what felt like 150mph.

Normally the fielders would shout "catch!" On this occasion, there was just an "ooohhh" because they knew how close I was to taking a really nasty blow.

The prospect of getting the series started on Friday is exciting, especially with the bigger picture of two T20 World Cups in the next two years.

Although I don't feel like my spot is nailed down, I feel very comfortable in the white-ball group. It's really well led by captain Eoin Morgan and there's a clear understanding of the role each player has.

To take myself to the next level, I'm looking to work on my yorker and one or two slower balls. There has been a lot of talk about the pace bowlers on either side - myself and Jofra Archer for England, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje for South Africa.

Those three bowlers all did really well in the Indian Premier League recently and it was great to see fast bowling come to the fore in that competition.

Will we all be pushing each other to bowl faster? Maybe, but I'd rather bowl well than bowl the fastest ball of the day.

Yes, it's exciting when the ball is flying around, not least because the faster you bowl the faster it comes off the bat.

But bowlers can't get carried away with that. Taking wickets and doing a job for the team is more important than the speed gun.

Mark Wood: "I'm focused on playing all three formats for England."

There was some excitement over an interviewexternal-link I did a few weeks ago, when I talked about the time I had my third ankle operation and if that would force me to retire from Test cricket.

If I'd been unsure that my body could stand up to Test matches, then I might have had to think about being a white-ball player, but, thankfully, I stuck at it and I've managed to play a few more Tests.

Will that be a decision I have to take in the future? Who knows, but for now I'm focused on playing all three formats for England.

That will hopefully include series against Sri Lanka and India in the new year, then the Ashes next winter.

People talk about my pace being an asset away from home. Obviously that's nice to here and I want to do that job, but I also want to get better in home conditions.

We have some really skilful bowlers who are experts at exploiting the advantages bowlers can have in England. I'm honest enough to say they did better than I did last summer. I'll work hard to improve, to make sure I'm ready when the next opportunity comes.

That hard work involves dragging yourself out for a run during lockdown, or getting into the cold garage for a weights session. They aren't always pleasant, but are made worthwhile when you do well for England.

My fitness levels and speeds have been steadily improving for a while. If there ever comes a time when that isn't the case, then I will have to think about what is best for my body.

For now, I'm very happy with what I'm doing.

Mark Wood was speaking to BBC Sport's Stephan Shemilt.

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