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Despite potential shortcomings with his bowling, the England management have backed Chris Woakes as one of only four players named in all three squads for the tour of New Zealand
January 24, 2013
Sometimes it is in adversity that you learn most about a cricketer. In the summer of 2008, a 19-year-old Chris Woakes found himself promoted to lead a fragile Warwickshire attack and playing in a T20 quarter-final against Kent in front of a large home crowd. It was the biggest game of his career to date.
It went horribly wrong. After three tight overs at the start of the Kent innings, Woakes was recalled to the attack for the 19th over. Struggling to grip a slippery ball he delivered two waist-height full tosses, one of which was hit for six, and was subsequently removed from the attack by the umpires halfway through the over. As his legitimate deliveries were also hit for a six and a four it meant he has conceded 27 runs off three balls and, as he saw it, lost the game for his team. He was, briefly, distraught.
But while some players would have wilted in the face of such public humiliation, Woakes dusted himself down and came back stronger. A few days later he was back in action in a Championship match against Middlesex where his second innings five-wicket haul played a major part in his team's victory. He laughed off the memory of the Kent game and described it as a valuable learning experience.
It is an incident that speaks volumes for Woakes as a character. His fresh-face and good manners belie a steely resolve that might not be obvious at first glance. But, over the last few years, he has developed into one of the most effective allrounders in English domestic cricket and now, aged 23, is the major beneficiary of the England squad announcement for the tour of New Zealand. He is one of only four men named in all three squads for each format of the game.
It is not hard to see the influence of Ashley Giles. Six of the Warwickshire squad that Giles led to the County Championship title in 2012 are included across the Test, limited-overs or Lions squads and, had Boyd Rankin not suffered a recurrence of a foot injury, he too would have been named in the Lions party.
Woakes is, in many ways, exactly the sort of cricketer England's new limited-overs coach believes in: hard-working, reliable and low-maintenance. Giles has always preferred reliable workhorses to temperamental geniuses. It is not hard to work out which category he belonged in as a player. It will never prove difficult being Chris Woakes in any dressing room. He has the character to prosper at the highest level.
Whether he has the game remains to be seen. His batting has developed impressively in recent seasons and, since the start of 2010, he has averaged 43.38 in first-class cricket. He might, one day, be considered good enough to bat at No. 6 in the Test team. Players in the Australian A side that toured England in the summer of 2012 rated his batting very highly.
|On New Zealand wickets Woakes may prove effective and he might, one day, offer the batting ability to allow England to go into Tests with five bowlers.|
There are more doubts about his bowling. While his first-class average is an impressive 25.56 and he can, in conditions where the ball swings, prove devastating, he may lack the weapons to dismantle good-quality opposition on flat tracks when the ball does not swing.
He does not possess great height and he would be unusually slow - in the low 80s - for a right-arm Test seamer. He will have to exhibit exceptional control if he is to succeed at that level. Hopes that England bowling coach, David Saker, can coax a little more pace out of him seem optimistic, too. Woakes has worked hard on that aspect of his game and may well have already reached optimum. For a variety of reasons - the absence of heavy rollers, underprepared pitches due to wet weather and helpful balls - seamers in county cricket have had things a little bit easier in the last couple of seasons. Those conditions will very rarely be replicated in Test cricket.
As one career progresses, so another recedes. Woakes' elevation comes at the cost of Tim Bresnan, whose demotion has been sugar-coated a little by the explanation that he has not been dropped so much as given time off to resolve his long-standing elbow injury. Whether rest, treatment or even surgery will allow him to return to the high standards he set before the operation he underwent in December 2011 remains to be seen, but he is clearly not the cricketer he was and there is little to be gained by persisting with him in the face of all evidence. By the end of the India Test series - a series in which he finished wicketless - he had bowled 450 deliveries since taking a Test wicket and, from the start of the South Africa series, his Test bowling average is an eye-watering 210. He looked a shadow of the excellent bowler who helped England win the Ashes in Australia and beat India in England. Before the operation, Bresnan's Test bowling average was 23.60. Since the operation it is 55.43.
Woakes is not a like-for-like replacement for Bresnan. Certainly he is unlikely to replicate Bresnan's impressive performances on the hard pitches of Australia. But, on New Zealand wickets he may prove effective and he might, one day, offer the batting ability to allow England to go into Tests with five bowlers. It is worth noting that his brief stint with Wellington before Christmas was not especially successful, but he is a work in progress and will surely benefit from seeing James Anderson in operation at close quarters. The example of Vernon Philander, a similar style bowler of comparable height and speed to Woakes, might offer encouragement, too.
There is no sugar-coating the pill that Craig Kieswetter must swallow. The message the selectors have given to him is clear: he has been tested over an extended opportunity and found wanting. Aged 25, he has time to come again, but it will prove desperately difficult. The fact that he has been sent to recuperate back with Somerset, where Buttler also needs to keep more often to progress his own ambitions, is an added complication. One of them may well have to move county.
Perhaps the recall of Rikki Clarke - albeit only to the Lions - might inspire Kieswetter. It is a decade since Clarke claimed a wicket with his first ball in international cricket as a 21-year-old and, at the time, he appeared to have a golden future. Progress has been far from smooth though and, having failed to fulfil his substantial promise, he has not represented England since September 2006. Now aged 31, time may be running out for him, but he has belatedly found the consistency to complement his ability and, over the last three years, has produced the most sustained period of good cricket of his career.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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