England legend Ashley Giles once said “If I were given an option to clone a young player, I would clone Chris Woakes.” These were the words of Giles, who ushered this praise on Woakes when the latter had just finished with the most wickets and the best bowling average in the 2010 County championship.
If Woakes played in any other era, he would probably have been England’s premier swing bowler, or England’s premier all-rounder, but unfortunately for him he played at the same time as James Anderson and Ben Stokes. Whatever he would do, would be overshadowed by these teammates of his.
Chris Woakes made his Test debut in the last match of the 2013 Ashes and the game was an atrocious one for him. Shane Watson and Steve Smith toyed with him like they are playing with their 6 year old cousin on Christmas, with Woakes going for 4 runs an over and both the batsmen scoring daddy hundreds. He did not ball badly but was not consistent enough and could not get away with balls that he got away with in the County circuit.
This remained the story of Woakes’ Test career in his early years. He would toil hard and bowl with heart but was not consistent enough to threaten the batsman at that level. As a result, by the time the all-rounder returned from the tour of South Africa in early 2016, he feared that his Test career was probably over. He averaged an awful 63.5 with the ball in the 6 Test matches he had played by this time. His batting was decent, but not good enough to keep him in the side, especially if you already have a player like Ben Stokes to provide that balance (he was coming on the back of the fastest 150 in test history in that South Africa series).
But then fate provided Woakes with another chance (mind you he has not got many of those in his career). Ben Stokes injured his knee and as a result Woakes was recalled to the side for the first Test match against Sri Lanka. This was the beginning of the English summer of 2016, or should I say the summer of Chris Woakes. He started off with career best figures of 3-6 in bowling and a career high 39 with the bat at the Chester-le-Street. He followed this with another 3 wicket spell and a knock of 66 at Lord’s. His wonderful summer was just starting. Pakistan came next and Woakes absolutely owned the visitors in the series. He claimed 11 for 102 against Pakistan, becoming the first England bowler since Ian Botham in 1978 to take a five-wicket haul in each innings of a Test at the ground. He followed it with another seven wickets and a half-century in Manchester and five more wickets in Birmingham. His 26 wickets at 16.73 apiece was a record in a series between England and Pakistan. In between he had also played a knock of 95 in an ODI against Sri Lanka and guided England to a victory out of nowhere. With this, Woakes well and truly arrived at the top level. He was named one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year for his efforts.
However, Woakes has played only 28 Test matches in the last 5 years, and only 2 in the last 18 months. Part of the reason why he missed so many matches was the incredible depth of fast bowling all rounders England currently have – Ben Stokes, Sam Curran and now Ollie Robinson. He also suffered from a number of injuries. With Ben Stokes missing, he was likely to play in the series against Sri Lanka in January, but he had to be isolated due to being in close contact with Moeen Ali, who tested positive for Covid-19. But with that being said, Woakes also has himself to blame for his lack of matches. He performs bad, and I mean real bad in away Test matches. He averages 50 in Australia, 50 in New Zealand, 56 in South Africa and 81 with the ball In India. Although he has played only a few matches respectively in those countries, such a bad bowling average is inexcusable.
Even with the bat, Chris Woakes averages 19 away from home. To his defence, in the series he played against Australia, all the English bowlers struggled, with Steve Smith eating the bowlers for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chris Woakes bowled pretty decently in most of these matches, hitting the right lengths and tolling hard, but that was not enough. If Woakes had played for either a different country (except Australia) or in a different era of English cricket, he would have gotten far more opportunities. The current English cricket circuit has got a lot of depth, specially in the breed of players that Chris Woakes comes under. He would have played far more Test matches, courtesy of his handy batting skills (most Indians might be aware of this after his knock on Friday) and his tremendous record at home. In 25 home Test matches, he averages 22 with the ball and 35 with the bat. Those are unheard numbers, particularly for a decent sample size of 25 matches.
Chris Woakes has shaped himself a career that most of the budding cricketers would be proud of. He was one of the most important players of the English side that lifted the World Cup, was named one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in 2016, was voted English Player of the Year in 2020, and has taken above 150 ODI wickets and 100 Test wickets. He was the fastest Englishman to 100 wickets and 1000 runs in both ODIs and Test matches. He is 32 now, and has good 3 years of cricket left in him. With Anderson touching 40, dip in form of Stuart Broad, constant injury issues for Jofra Archer and Mark Wood, these 3 years can be his time to shine even brighter for England.
(By Jaivin Mehta)