England in New Zealand 2012-13 January 24, 2013

England show faith in Woakes potential

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

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 ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mark on January 26, 2013, 8:11 GMT

    @landl Something else that you aluded to is important. A year ago we were hearing of the new, young Australian pace attack that would sweep all before it. How many games have they played since due to injury? You can't expose young fast bowlers to too much work too soon and, as a result, Australia is essentially back to its 2010 Ashes attack.

  • Mark on January 26, 2013, 7:55 GMT

    @landl It doesn't look like that will happen as he was lightly used last season. However, this tour will do him a lot of good. He'll learn a lot. He'll play a few games and will develop. No need to go back to Cummins. What about Jimmy Anderson: leading the England attack at 20, in the international wilderness at 22 and looking unlikely to come back?

  • John on January 26, 2013, 0:05 GMT

    @CricketingStargazer: I watched Reece Topley in the U-19 World Cup, where he was easily the best bowler in the tournament. He's just about to turn 19, so he's still very young, but with his size and ability to get movement he looks a star of the future. However, I hope we learn a lesson from the Australian misfortune and don't try and push him too far too soon (Pat Cummins hasn't played a first-class match since November 2011 because of injury). With Reece offering a left-arm variation to Finn, Woakes as the medium-pacer and Roland-Jones and Harris also in the mix, we have some good years to look forward to.

  • Toby on January 25, 2013, 18:49 GMT

    He also fails to acknowledge when saying "seamers in England have had it easy last 2 years" that his averages was every bit as good-better, in fact-in previous seasons. It's not like he did what so many County trundlers did last year, he's CONSISTENTLY proved himself in FC cricket for his entire career.

  • Toby on January 25, 2013, 18:47 GMT

    "He may lack the weapons to dismantle good-quality opposition on flat tracks when the ball does not swing." Shucks, bar 2 or 3 seam bowlers worldwide, who doesn't? The quote above is Pythonesque:"He's probably not very good bowling up a mountain to Viv Richards in his prime entirely naked in a force 10 gale after running 3 marathons in a week with lead weights attached to his shoulders with a 200-over old ball whilst being tickled with a feather and sprayed with cat urine as his dad berates him for being rubbish and his best mate gets off with his missus on the sidelines".

    No, but he might do OK against New Zealand in New Zealand-and ANYONE in England!

    The piece also falls to acknowledge that his batting is a bonus-he CAN bat, but he has made his name because of his bowling. I thought he was a future England seamer when he was a No.9 batsman. His best ODI bowling figures do suggest he's good enough with the ball.

  • no on January 25, 2013, 14:13 GMT

    "he would be unusually slow - in the low 80s - for a right-arm Test seamer."

    How do cricket writers and pundits continue to get away with this? Bresnan, Broad, Anderson, Tremlett, Onions, Philander, all the Indians, all the Bangladeshis, all the Sri Lankans, most of the Kiwis, most of the Aussies not to mention three of the four best right arm seamers of recent times in McGrath, Pollock and Asif bowl/bowled at this speed.

    Yet Woakes would be unusually slow. Bizarre.

  • Mark on January 25, 2013, 7:42 GMT

    @landl47 Reece Topley has been around for a few years. Dad is Don Topley. Led the U19 attack in the World Cup. I remember when he came into the Essex side in an injury crisis at 17 (!!) he performed really well (his dad was the summariser on the commentary, which made for some interesting situations). Made the sort of impact Steve Finn did. He's tall. Not so quick yet. But he looked like a future England player from the word go. Didn't play much last season, but that is not such a bad thing. With proper handling he will go a long way.

  • sam on January 25, 2013, 6:13 GMT

    George, sometimes some of your reasoning is plain ludicrous. Pace isn't everything. Forget McGrath. Even Hoggard was bowling 77-78 mph in the last few years of his test career. Still he managed about a 100 wickets in those 25-30 tests. Remember Chaminda Vaas. Even a better example. Bowled 79-80 mph throughout his career on the flattest of decks and was extremely successful within his limited ability. If Woakes can average less than 35 with the ball (and bowl decent lines) and more than 35 with the bat with half-centuries/centuries in every series (like Flintoff) and not by enhanced average as a result of not outs (like Bresnan, Broad) he will be a fine No. 7. Prior can bat at 6.

  • John on January 25, 2013, 5:53 GMT

    What Woakes has going for him is that he bowls with a beautiful seam position, absolutely rock solid. If Anderson and Saker can help him with his length and some variations, he might turn out to be a test-class bowler. I think his batting, which has progressed faster than his bowling, will turn out to be his strength. He and Stokes, who is a couple of years younger, will be competing for a test spot over the next decade. I'm not really surprised about Bresnan. I always thought his early stats flattered him (a player's FC averages rarely lie and Bresnan's weren't that good). He's a 100% tryer who won't let you down for lack of effort, but a bit short of test class. Kieswetter wasn't good enough as a W/K or reliable enough as a batsman. With Bairstow, Buttler and now Foakes coming through, England are well-placed in that department.

    It's still too early to talk about Topley, but he looks awesome for the future, and I hope Roland-Jones gets a look. FC average 20, SR 38- great stats.

  • James on January 25, 2013, 1:37 GMT

    High hopes for Woakes, his performance in CC demands selection. A shame for Bresnan who for a time looked like the real deal for England but its impossible to ignore his decline since the elbow operation. I hope he finds a way to get back.

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