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July 3, 2012
Chris Woakes is desperate to put his injury problems behind him and take his latest opportunity to establish himself as an international cricketer. Woakes was added to the England ODI squad for the five-match series against Australia due to the unavailability of other bowlers and could well make his first ODI performance in England on his home ground of Edgbaston on Wednesday.
When Woakes came into the England limited-overs sides, it appeared he had a bright future at international level. He helped England to victory with the bat on debut - in a Twenty20 match against Australia in Adelaide he pulled the fourth ball he faced in international cricket, a short delivery from Shaun Tait, for six and scored the winning run from the final delivery. He then claimed 6 for 45 in his second ODI - the second best figures by an England bowler in an ODI, behind Paul Collingwood's 6 for 31 - to underline his ability at the top level.
Progress since then has been fitful, however. Perhaps partly as a result of his heavy workload in county cricket, Woakes suffered shin and thigh injuries and then, on Warwickshire's pre-season tour of Barbados in March, tore his ankle ligaments when sliding to stop a ball in the field. Despite the promising start, he has played just four ODIs and three T20 internationals.
He is still only 23, however, and his county form remains exceptional. Last season Woakes scored 579 runs in 16 first-class innings at an average of 48.25 and took 56 wickets at an average of 21.78, while in three championship matches this season, he is averaging under 20 with the ball and more than 80 with the bat. If he could sustain his fitness for a longer period of time, he might well apply some pressure for Tim Bresnan's Test place.
"It's fantastic to be in the squad and involved again and nice to know the selectors are thinking of me," Woakes said. "I've had a few injury problems, but they're in the past now. I'm feeling fresh and I'm over that. I've been in the gym and I'm stronger in certain areas where I needed to improve and feel my cricket is going in the right direction. I'm desperate to play."
There is no guarantee that he will, though. While Jade Dernbach and Stuart Meaker are absent - both Surrey players will attend Tom Maynard's funeral on Wednesday and Dernbach also has an injury that has ruled him out of the series - England still hope that James Anderson will have recovered from his groin strain to return to the team.
With an important Test series against South Africa looming, it is unlikely England will risk Anderson if there are any lingering doubts over his fitness. But, if England do win this game to take an unassailable 3-0 win in the series, there may be more opportunities for rotation in the last couple of game.
In the longer term, Woakes' advantage over the likes of Meaker and Dernbach is his ability with the bat. His disadvantage may be a perceived lack of pace - he bowls in the low 80mph most of the time - but he feels he is gradually improving in all areas.
"My bowling, at the moment anyway, is more suited to first-class cricket and, I think, the Test game," he said. "I have the ability to swing the ball and to work out a batsman's weaknesses and I've improved every year. My stock ball is the outswinger, but I tend to try an inswinger quite early in a batsman's innings. Quite often, though, it's the natural variation that brings the wickets.
"The aim is to play for England for a long period of time. I want to become a Warwickshire legend, but it would even better to be an England legend as well. When you look who is fighting for bowling places, though, it's very tough. Anderson and Broad are fantastic bowlers and, with England playing only three or even two seamers at the moment, it's very hard to look past them. If I'd come along ten years ago, I'd probably been playing by now.
"I see my route into the side is as a genuine allrounder, batting at six or seven. So Tim Bresnan is the one that I have to get past. I have improved - and become quicker - as a bowler every season and there are times I think: 'Look at the stats; what more do I have to do?'"
It is perhaps Woakes' composure that is his most impressive trait. While he has known failure on the pitch, he has also shown a welcome ability to bounce back, as his memories of his worst moments on a cricket pitch underline.
"I conceded 27 runs off three balls in a T20 quarterfinal against Kent at Edgbaston in 2008," Woakes said. "I was no-balled twice and taken out of the attack by the umpires for bowling two no-balls for full tosses above waist height. One of the no-balls was hit for six and I was hit for a six and two fours off the legitimate balls.
I was 19 at the time and I felt I'd lost the game for the team: I was distraught. But none of the guys said much about it. They just said 'bad luck' and we got on with it. Two days later, we played a championship game at Uxbridge and I took seven wickets in the game including five in the second innings."
It would be special for Woakes to play in front of a home crowd. One of his earliest cricketing memories is watching Warwickshire win the 1993 Nat West final - the game where Asif Din scored a century - and he first came for trials at Edgbaston when he was ten years old.
He describes himself as "a Warwickshire Bear through and through" and is relishing the chance to line-up alongside two other Warwickshire players - Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell - in front of a near-capacity crowd.
While some tickets are available, more than 20,000 have been sold. Tellingly, however, after their experience with a rain-ruined Test and at a recent T20 game between Warwickshire and Worcestershire, the club have insured not just for ticket sales, but for retail sales, too.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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