It hasn’t been long since Chris Woakes played a prominent role in England drawing the Ashes 2023 at home after losing the first two Tests. In three Tests that he played, the right-arm pacer took 19 wickets at 18.15 to win the player-of-the-series award as England bounced to level the series 2-2.
Fast forward to today, Woakes isn’t part of England’s touring party currently in India for a five-match Test series which they, surprisingly, lead 1-0.
On the Indian pitches where spinners are anyway expected to dictate the outcome, England relying more on their slow bowlers even if they are thin on international experience, makes sense. The Hyderabad Test saw Mark Wood as the only specialist fast bowler in England’s XI and he delivered 25 wicketless overs even as debutant spinner Tom Hartley took a seven-for in India’s second innings to win player-of-the-match award.
Woakes would have loved to be part of the Test series in India but at 34, he’s admitted his bowling in red-ball cricket is more suited to home conditions than in away Tests.
With his England teammates hoping to best India in their own backyard, over 2,500 kms away in the middle-east, Woakes is currently plying his trade for the Sharjah Warriors in the ongoing International League T20 and is hopeful of using the experience to make a strong case for his inclusion in England’s squad for the T20 World Cup slated to be held in June this year.
A winner of 2019 World Cup and 2022 T20 World Cup, Woakes spoke to News18 CricketNext on varied topics.
Chris, you have talked about the difference between your bowling performances when playing Tests in England compared to away from home. Have you been able to pinpoint what exactly is the reason behind the gulf?
No, not really. I mean, my bowling style is suited in red-ball cricket for home conditions. I’m a very good bowler with the Dukes ball. I’ve bowled with it since I was a very young age, so I’m at home with it. Away from home, the Kookaburra ball is a lot harder to use. I find I don’t generally get as much movement with that ball. So I think that’s probably what has been the main issue, to be honest.
England are currently in India for a Test series. You think their aggressive approach with regards to batting will work on slow conditions?
Yeah, I think England, they only know one way to play and that’s to be on the front foot, be aggressive. So it’ll be a good series. I’m sure it’s going to be hard. Obviously, playing it against India in India is very challenging. It’s hard to go there and win. I think they’ve only lost once there in the last 20 years or so. So it shows how hard it is to win in India, especially across a five match series.
So we’ll be up against it, but at the same time, England will play an aggressive brand of cricket and they’ll live by that and make sure that they stick to it. And I think that’s actually going to give them the best chance of winning. Obviously, it’s still going to be very hard, but I think by playing their way is probably going to give them the best chance.
Right now you are playing in ILT20, IPL will follow. There’s a T20 World Cup schedule right after IPL. What are your personal goals from the two leagues?
I think, in the year leading up to a T20 World Cup, the more high quality T20 cricket you can play, the better. So hopefully in the next period of ILT20 and then IPL, hope to think you can create some good form and then obviously selection for a World Cup would be amazing. So, yeah, fingers crossed that can happen. But busy few months.
You’ve been part of Sharjah Warriors for both the ILT20 seasons now. Can you talk about your experience with the team?
Really looking forward to being a part of the team and the squad. It’s obviously season two for the league and season two for me with Sharjah. Had a great time last year and obviously some new faces this year. We’ve got a good squad, different backroom staff and different coaching staff, which is always good to tap into. So it’s exciting. Everyone’s obviously (pumped up). We didn’t get the result we wanted in the first game, but everyone’s in a good place and looking forward to (the tournament).
T20 leagues continue to mushroom. Players and even cricket boards are now prioritising their own leagues even at the cost of international commitments. It’s obvious why players flock to these tournaments – financial security. How do you think can a balance be established between club and international cricket?
Yeah, I think obviously the landscape has changed a lot over the last few years with more leagues happening, but obviously I still believe international cricket is the pinnacle. I still think that’s where you want to play. You want to represent your country and play at World Cups and play in big series against the world’s best. It’s hard for me to say exactly what the landscape looks like moving forward, but at the same time, I think everyone still respects that international cricket is extremely important.
You know, people still want to see their country play and be able to watch the best players play for their countries as well. So I think the leagues are raising the standard of T20 cricket around the world. And I think in due course, I think that obviously also raises the standard of international cricket as well.
The biggest loser in this regard it seems will be Test cricket. There have been suggestions to create exclusive window during a year to play just Test cricket. What are your thoughts?
Yeah, obviously Test cricket is, for me, still the greatest format, personally, but I know not everyone thinks that way. I don’t believe that Test cricket will die. I understand that some countries play a lot less of it than probably what they used to. I think it’s important that the whole world still plays Test cricket for it to survive.
You don’t want to just keep watching the same series over and over again. You want to see teams challenge against each other. I think maybe if you do have windows where you can play more of it and more teams can play it, then that might be beneficial to everyone. But still, for me, we’re very lucky in England that we get great crowds for Test cricket. So it’d be nice to be able to see other nations do the same, but they need help from ICC for that to happen.
How has been the experience of bowling in ILT20, the pitches are obviously different, conditions can be particularly harsh for fast bowler
It’s obviously different conditions (than England). You have to adapt. You have to assess the conditions and adapt accordingly. But I think we’re very fortunate to play in such an amazing stadium (Sharjah Cricket Stadium).
It’s Sharjah, the conditions are very different. We didn’t play well last year, so it’s important that we try and put that right this year. We just have to adapt to the conditions. The pitches were re-laid at Sharjah, so we kind of getting into grips with that as well. Obviously it’s important that we adapt quickly and hopefully perform well at Sharjah. I think it can be very small ground and quite challenging for bowlers sometimes. So we’re going to have to obviously work on some plans to make sure we can combat that.
Chris, you will be playing for Punjab Kings in IPL this time. You will be reunited with Trevor Bayliss…
Yeah, I’m excited to work with Trevor again at Punjab Kings. He was a big part of particularly my white-ball career and red-ball career actually with England during his time. I’ve gone really well with him as a coach. Feel like he got the best out of me as a player and it’d be great to join up with him again.
Really excited by that. Grateful for the opportunity and it should be a great season. There’s obviously a good English contingent there. Jonny Bairstow, Sam Curran, Liam Livingstone, myself and it’s a strong team so hopefully we have a good season but I’m excited to get there and obviously test myself again in IPL which is obviously a difficult tournament.
Sharjah finished fifth out of six teams last year. How far do you think this team can go this season?
Yeah, well, we’ve got a very strong team here. I think what’s good about this team, especially in this tournament, is obviously you allowed nine overseas players so you’ve got a lot of very high quality players coming into one team. I think we’ve got a very good balance. We got plenty of bowling options and some obviously good, especially top-order players. I think generally we’ve just got a really good balance. Certainly it feels better balanced than probably what we had last year. So hopefully that holds us in a good stead.