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Is Woakes the new Stokes?

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Chris_Woakes_England_cricketPerhaps the biggest news of the 2017-18 Ashes was that Ben Stokes would be missing from the England line-up. Four years earlier, the Durham all-rounder made his debut during a horrendous Ashes tour of Australia but enhanced his reputation with a counter-attacking hundred in just his second Test match. Since then, Stokes has gone from heights to heights and was an indispensable part of the England line-up across formats.

Towards the end of September, angry and under the influence, he was part of a street brawl which resulted in him sustaining an injury and the man fighting him going to hospital. He was summarily suspended from the England touring party Down Under.

The visitors don't have time to sit back and mourn the loss of Stokes and need to find alternatives as quickly as possible. Luckily, they may not have to dig deep with Chris Woakes available in the squad.

The all-rounder was dropped from the Test team soon after his debut around the same time that Stokes became a mainstay in the England side. With the Durham all-rounder in the team, England management deemed Woakes to be surplus to requirements. But that did not deter him, although he admits that he was “shocked and disappointed” by the exclusion that came just before the Ashes in 2013.

This won't be the first time Woakes is filling in for Stokes. Last year, when Stokes was out due to injury, England had played Bairstow, Ali and Woakes in that order at numbers six, seven and eight. A glance at Woakes’ record in First-class cricket would show that the all-rounder is no mug with the bat.

 

He has 5,154 runs in 129 First-class games with an average of 36.04. including an impressive nine hundreds. It is a feat not many are aware of. Add to that his ability to swing the new ball early and England do have a complete package in Woakes.

 

He has often stepped in as a replacement for one of Anderson, Broad or Finn in the recent past and has enjoyed significant success. Since the start of 2016, Woakes has 43 wickets in 13 Tests at an average of 27.06, better than that of Stokes and even Broad. Woakes even has two five-wicket hauls in an innings and a ten wicket haul in a Test during this time frame.

But he is well aware that bowling alone won't make him a like for like replacement for Stokes.

 

“Losing Ben as an all-rounder means myself, Moeen and I suppose even Jonny have more of a chance to prove our worth,” he had said. “If I am to bat higher up the order, I will try to embrace that challenge and look forward to the opportunity to score some runs for the team – to get in and score some big runs. I take my batting as seriously as possible.”

 

That said, trying to be a batting all-rounder might be a bit of stretch for Woakes. He is a bowler first and will likely bowl behind Anderson and Broad when England take the field at the Gabba this week. This means he may not get conventional swing, something he is pretty good at exploiting. But if it means doing the hard yards - sticking to a line and length, cutting out scoring opportunities and bowling long spells - England can be relieved that Woakes is up to the task.

He knows bowling behind Anderson and Broad may not be ideal for his strengths but Woakes is prepared to be a workhorse. “Everyone talks about having to drag your length back in Australia but if you look at the bowlers who have done well there like Glenn McGrath, he wasn’t express pace and bowled a full length in Australia and got great results.”

Woakes played all three warm-up matches of the tour so far and has been the standout bowler for England. He picked up four of the top wickets to fall in the second innings of the first game against Cricket Australia XI, triggering a collapse that helped England walk away with a win.

In the second warm-up at Townsville, Woakes was once again at it, picking up 6/57 and hitting a nice rhythm before the first Test.

“All the numbers are saying that I'm getting close to being "cooked"... I'm pleased with where I'm at,” he said. “A week away from the first Test, it's always nice to hit a bit of form”, he said after the game. It certainly is good news for England, who are still grappling from the loss of Stokes and the indifferent form of Broad.

If anything, Woakes is even prepared for the hostility from the Aussie crowds. He acknowledges it as “part and parcel" of the game although he believes it will peak by the time England take the field at the Gabba. That won't matter though if he can steam in and bowl like he did at Townsville.

 

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