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The rise of Chris Woakes


Chris_Woakes_England_cricketLots has been written about Chris Woakes in the last few weeks, which in itself would have been unthinkable prior to this season. Most of it has focused on the development of Woakes from a solid, unflashy cricketer, unsure of his international credentials to one of the first names on the England team sheet. That is an understandable angle, but it is wrong. Woakes has always been a star.

They say the mark of a top class all-rounder is to have a batting average higher than their bowling average. Woakes averages 37 with the bat and 24 with the ball in First-class cricket. That is better than Ben Stokes (34 and 30), Andrew Flintoff (33 and 31) and Ian Botham (33 and 27).

The Warwickshire man is quick, regularly getting up towards 90mph, and Alastair Cook described him during the Sri Lanka series as the quickest bowler he faces in England net sessions. He can also swing the ball, which has led to premature comparisons with James Anderson. A quick bowler who can swing the ball and averages 24 in First-class cricket is a high class operator.


His batting is his weaker suit but not by much. He has nine First-class hundreds with a top score of 152 not out. His technique would not look out of place in England’s top order and he would bat at number seven in all the other Test teams around the world. He is a proper batsman.

These stats prove that Woakes has always been a top class all-rounder. There are not many who have records as good as his. In one-day cricket, he is often asked by Warwickshire and England to bowl at the two most dangerous times for a bowler: the first ten overs and the last five overs. He won a T20 Final for Warwickshire against Lancashire in 2014 with a fantastic final over.

Woakes made his ODI debut for England in 2011 and his Test debut two years later. He himself admits that before this season, he was worried about his international place, feeling that he hadn’t proven what he could do.

His debut, against Australia at The Oval in 2013, was a selection that owed as much to England’s rotation than anything else. After five Tests, which spanned two years, he had taken just seven wickets at 52. He played one match in South Africa at the beginning of this year and took 1-144.

For all Woakes’ First-class excellence with the ball, his performances at first glance seemed odd. In hindsight, perhaps it shouldn’t have. He was a stop-gap, certainly in Tests, picked only when other candidates were injured or knackered. That is no way to start a Test career, when players most need their confidence built up and a run of games to get used to the pressure of the game.

Whilst his introduction to the team was less than ideal, the selectors deserve great credit for sticking with Woakes when Ben Stokes was injured after the first Test in that Sri Lanka series. It would have been easy to discard him and pick a new face but they were consistent. He had been good enough to replace Anderson in South Africa a few months earlier and had not suddenly become unselectable. Woakes responded with eight wickets in the remaining two Tests at an average of 18 and his first Test match half-century.

Those two Tests, against an admittedly weak Sri Lankan side, sparked something in Woakes. He followed it up with 95 not out from number eight to tie England the first game of the ODI series when they looked dead and buried at 82-6 chasing 286. He then took eleven wickets at Lord’s in the first Test against Pakistan and another seven at Old Trafford in England’s thumping victory.


Whether it was increased confidence, some bad luck in his first five Tests that had changed to good luck in his next five, the backing of the selectors after that South Africa tour, or the freedom granted from knowing it was almost last-chance saloon: Woakes is now confirming the potential and class at Test match level that he has always displayed in First-class cricket. He has 34 Test wickets at an average of 25.

This is unlikely to be a flash in the pan as he has a game built to succeed. Woakes has a beautifully classic and simple bowling action and his batting technique is solid against both pace and spin. Technically, he doesn’t have much work to do. And at 27, he should also be entering his prime as a cricketer.

England need him too. Whilst Anderson, Stuart Broad and Stokes are guaranteed starters when fit, the extra seamer in England’s attack has not yet been nailed down. Steven Finn blows hot and cold. Mark Wood is a high-class bowler but has a worrying injury record. And Jake Ball is young and raw. Woakes has now leapfrogged all of them, something that would have seemed unthinkable prior to this season. He is in England’s first choice Test eleven.

It is a heartening story, not least because Woakes is highly spoken of by his teammates and coaches alike for being a stand-up guy. His success is well deserved, but should have been expected. He has always been a star cricketer and now he is showing that at the very highest level. England have a very fine sportsman at their disposal.


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