Mark Wood column: Life in England’s ‘sci-fi movie’
The bio-secure environment in Southampton, where we are preparing for the Test series against West Indies, feels a bit like a sci-fi movie.
When we first turned up, there was a huge tent outside the hotel, where we had to pass through to get our temperature scanned. We dropped our bags off so they could be sprayed before they were taken in.
Inside, there are no room keys – you open doors with an app on your phone. There is hand sanitiser at every turn, and on the floor there are arrows, lines and footprints to show the way to go. We fill in a health questionnaire each morning and take our own temperature before we go to breakfast.
When we use the lift, we press buttons with our elbows, and only four people can get in at once. In the lift, everyone turns out to face a different wall, which makes it quite difficult to have a conversation.
We have to wear our accreditation any time we are not in our rooms or on the training pitch. The accreditation has a chip that tracks your movements, so if anyone does get ill, we will know who they have been in contact with. Similarly, we wear face masks any time we are not in our rooms or outdoors.
At meal times, it is just like being back at school. We queue up (socially distanced, of course), and take a tray and cutlery that is wrapped in a bag. You move around and ask to be served the food you would like, then take it to sit at your own individual desk, looking at the back of the person in front.
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If it sounds like I am painting a grim picture, that is not the intention, because I know we are very lucky to be here and we have all been looking forward to the chance to play cricket again.
To me, all the procedures we are going through are an extension to two of three pillars that the England team is built on: unity and respect.
Unity because we are all in this together, and respect because we take the precautions not just to keep ourselves safe, but also everyone else in the bubble.
Stokes loses his Formula 1 crown
Training days, which come two or three at a time, are busy. One half of the day is spent in the nets or on cricket skills, while the other half is in the gym.
It is the days off, or the evenings, that can be tough to fill. For that reason, we are lucky enough to have been given plenty of options for keeping entertained.
The nearby golf course is taking a battering. I am not much of a golfer – I usually only play once a year – but I have played three times in the past week alone.
I have tried to get the golf bug, but I think I am getting worse. I went for a ramble with Ben Stokes, and he gave me some tips that I was pleased with, only for my next round to be terrible. I just can’t get my head around how a professional athlete can hit one decent shot, then follow it with one that scuttles along the ground.
Away from the golf course, we have a pool table, a dart board and table tennis. We play a lot of cards, which gets quite competitive. Joe Denly is the scorer and usually the winner. Work that one out.
The thing attracting the most attention is the Formula 1 simulator, which is lifelike down to the seat, steering wheel and pedals.
You might remember that Stokesy was involved in a race during lockdown, so he knows how to set it up to make the car go faster. He put his lap time up as the one to beat, but he has now been topped by the Overton brothers. From my experience, driving an F1 car in a face mask can get a bit heated.
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Bowling bouncers at my team-mates
On the field, we have gradually built up the intensity towards the three-day practice match, which starts on Wednesday.
On the one hand, it will be strange trying to get up for an internal match in an empty ground, but, on the other, there are 30 players vying for a spot in that Test side.
As a fast bowler, part of my armoury is being aggressive, trying to rough up the opposition. Would I be comfortable trying to do that to my England team-mates in this situation? Probably not, but if the captain or coach asks me to, then that is what I will have to do.
I would rather look at it as an opportunity to experiment with the skills that I have been learning during lockdown, but I have also got to remember that there are Test spots up for grabs and I want to give the best account of myself. If I get hit for a couple of fours, I am sure the competitive juices will flow.
There has been a lot of talk about Stokesy being captain in the first Test, with Joe Root missing out to be at the birth of his second child.
I am one of the few people who have actually played under Stokesy, back in our days on the Durham academy.
He was a good skipper back then, leading from the front, just like he does now. As the years have gone on, he has matured into a senior player, setting the example and dragging people along with him.
He has a good cricket brain and, even though he does not have much captaincy experience, he will have seasoned players like James Anderson and Stuart Broad around to bounce ideas off.
Stokesy won’t not just tell people what to do. He knows that players are individuals, so he will treat them as such. That said, he is also very honest, so he won’t be afraid to tell it straight if someone is not pulling their weight or sticking to a plan.
He will do a brilliant job.
Mark Wood was talking to BBC Sport’s Stephan Shemilt.
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