Woakes confirms quality in joining exclusive club
Before the final day at Old Trafford, Chris Woakes gave an insight into his approach. “It’s easy to try to chase it,” he said. “We kept trying to pass our spells on; tried not to get too greedy towards the back end.”
This was the famous All Blacks mantra – leave the jersey in a better place – in miniature. And while England’s series-levelling victory in Manchester was defined by the deeds of Ben Stokes, it was also another reminder of the altogether less obtrusive qualities of another all-rounder.
A few hours before England sealed victory, Woakes got a delivery to seam in to Shane Dowrich, who had shuffled across his stumps. Dowrich missed, and umpire Michael Gough judged that the ball was hitting his stumps.
In this moment, Woakes joined a select group of cricketers. Only 71 players have both scored 1,000 runs and taken 100 wickets in Tests. Woakes got there in his 34th
Test – the 19th-fastest, and thirdquickest Englishman. Stokes and Andrew Flintoff took nine Tests more; even Sir Garfield Sobers took longer than Woakes. Of course, these numbers do not say that Woakes is better – but they do show how, over seven years of his Test career, he has thrust himself into fine company.
To call Woakes underrated long ago entered the realm of tired cliche. And it is not really true, either. “Not at all,” said Joe Root, his captain. “We all know what he’s capable of doing. He’s proved with bat and ball across the formats that he’s invaluable to our group.”
Yet there is still a tendency to slightly brush over Woakes’s phenomenal record at home. In 20 Tests in England, he has now taken 75 wickets at 22.9 apiece – a superior average to Stuart Broad and James Anderson. When playing in England, he has seldom lost much by comparison with either: Broad averages higher, 24.2, in Woakes’s home Tests. Over the past three years at home, Woakes swings and seams the ball more than Broad.
This is the 10th home series in which Woakes has been involved; England have yet to lose any. The curiosity, perhaps, is why – especially with a Test batting average of 26.3, only one less than Mark Ramprakash and five less than Flintoff – Woakes has played only 19 of the 43 home Tests since his debut.
The answer is part inopportune injuries, part a perception that he is a little too similar to Broad and Anderson, and part Woakes suffering for his away form. His away average, 51.6, is the worst of any bowler to 100 Test wickets. But while he has found the Kookaburra ball far less conducive to his qualities than the Dukes, there were signs last winter – in his fuller length, development of the wobble-seam delivery and occasional well-directed bouncers – of a bowler who can now succeed in all climes.
Had the Stokes family never emigrated from New Zealand, Woakes could have been established at No 7 in a five-man England attack. Instead, Woakes has been the perfect cricketer, and personality, for the age of international cricket as a squad game.
“He’s one of the most consistent blokes on and off the field,” Root said. “He’s Mr Dependable – someone that you can always rely on and know what you’re going to get.”
For all the focus on Broad after his omission at the Ageas Bowl, Woakes had almost as impressive a return. Broad took six for 108 in the match; Woakes took five for 76, and was more economical, too. The upshot was that he kept his home Test bowling average below Broad’s. Darren Gough, who has worked as a bowling consultant for England, last month suggested Woakes could replace Anderson as “the figurehead at the top” of the attack. At 31, Woakes could yet get a few years as the glue in England’s Test attack. Or perhaps, like Andy Murray playing in the age of tennis’s “Big Three”, his timing will just prove off.
Little matter. Woakes has been integral to England’s maiden World Cup win – he took six for 57 across the semi-final and final – and an essential part of their six-year unbeaten Test run at home, even when his contribution has been to push those in the side to improve to fight him off.
“It is incredible what you can achieve, if you don’t care who gets the credit,” Harry Truman once said. Woakes’s career has embodied as much.