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Woakes feared he would never play again a year before Headingley rescue mission

Player of the Ashes series makes his time for England count after comeback from knee injury

That Chris Woakes was awarded player of the series for the 2023 Ashes was impressive given a sample size of three Test matches from a possible five. But such was the influence of the Brummie Botham, helping England win two of the final three Tests to draw 2-2 with Australia, the decision made perfect sense once you gave it a moment's thought.
As big a feat, however, might be that Woakes is even here at all. A year before parachuting in to save England at Headingley, the 34-year-old feared he would never play cricket again.
Following a packed 2021-22 winter in which Woakes was the only bowler to play the T20 World Cup, the Ashes and tour of the Caribbean, he arrived back in the United Kingdom with the chronic issue in his right knee worse than ever before. The pain was so excruciating when he bowled that he wondered if a Test career of fits and starts, was finally coming to an end. One which climaxed with a dismal return of 11 dismissals at 52.36 across six appearances in unforgiving circumstances.
Thankfully,we know Woakes' story has a happy ending. The operation last summer, performed by knee and sports specialist Andy Williams, was such a success that Woakes was able to help England secure the 2022 T20 World Cup within months. Now, he has the Compton-Miller medal to add to a collection that includes the 2019 50-over World Cup. His bowling average is now under 30 (29.13), he picked up a first five-wicket haul against Australia in the fourth Test and his stock has never been higher with English supporters.
"The way my knee felt, I wasn't sure if I was going to play cricket again," Woakes admitted. "If I could be at the end of that tour again (Caribbean), at no point did I think I'll be stood here now with what I've achieved. So yeah, it's pretty incredible to think about.
"You don't always get what you want and what you're kind of destined for. But I turned down the opportunity to go to the IPL (2023) for a number of reasons, one being the opportunity to potentially be a part of this series.
"At no point did I think I'd be stood here. That's not how far your mind works. You don't think 'I can't wait to be player of the series in the Ashes'. You just want to be a part of it, contribute and hopefully win. So to think that I'm stood here now actually… I think I need to let it sink in."
The last four of the 19 dismissals at 18.15 came on the final day of the series, split between two spells; the first accounting for both set openers Usman Khawaja and David Warner, the second taking out Steve Smith, who had got Australia to within 110 of their target of 384. A collapse followed, capped off by a brace for the departing Stuart Broad.
Woakes was initially a doubt for this Test and revealed a "tiny" quad tear which he felt during his 10th over in the first innings. He powered through to bowl 25 - taking 3 for 61 - before another 19 in the second. His durability throughout has covered for his fellow quicks who waned as the series drew to a conclusion.
There were runs, too, notably the 32 in the Headingley chase which got the comeback up and running. Every time England needed to someone to stand up in the back end of this Ashes, Woakes was more often than not that man. Unsurprisingly, he rates this as high as any of his other achievements, particularly given how the team rallied from 2-0 down.
"The last three weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind - just amazing to be a part of. Just turning up at Headingley knowing that I was going to play and I think the belief in the dressing room at that point was still that we could win 3-2, which is amazing.
"I think, in the past, we may have thrown the towel in but it was never the case. You know, the captain and the coach aren't interested in draws so we knew that they were going to be results games. And coming off the back of Headingley, we felt that we could go on and win. Were it not for the weather, maybe we would be standing here 3-2."
Broad's retirement, and question marks over James Anderson, who turned 41 on Sunday and returned just five wickets at 85.40, puts Woakes in a unique position in the latter stages of his career. Since debuting at the Oval against Australia in 2013, he has never played more than nine Tests in a row, partly because of their longevity.
"When he's not playing anymore it will all be 'if he wasn't in the era of Jimmy and Broad, he would have been more consistent in the England team'," stated Ben Stokes after the match. Typically, Woakes rallies against the assertion they were ever obstacles in his career.
"I'm pretty sure I've answered this a few times, but I feel very lucky to have played with Stuart as well. Jimmy's the same. The stuff that I've learned from them has had a huge impact on how I've bowled about over the years. It's extended my international career if anything.
"So we obviously won't know what would have been if they hadn't been around. But I can only have good things to say in terms of the knowledge that they've passed on and the games that I have been a part of with them. It's been an honour really."
Nevertheless, there is a job up for grabs for an experienced head to oversee a transition for the bowling attack. And Woakes wants it, even among all his lucrative options on the franchise circuit.
"Yeah, definitely. I want to play for England for as long as possible. Still, for me, playing international cricket is the pinnacle. You want to be a part of days like today. You don't get it any anywhere else. So, you want this to last for as long as possible whilst you're still performing, obviously. I think it's important that the older guys in the team do pass on the knowledge to younger guys coming through.
"I think there's a big thing to be said for that. Because the international game is very different to what we play at county level. So much information can be passed on and hopefully, I can be part of that."
Even last summer when Woakes was out of action, Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum had touched base with the Warwickshire allrounder because they knew he would fit their approach. That has played out to a tee, and now, as with many others in the set-up, you wonder how things would have been for Woakes if this management style was around five years ago.
Woakes approached that philosophical question with a philosophical answer: "Would I be here today without what's been? I don't know." He's got a point.
Even at the end of an Ashes series that thrilled but could have been better, there are no regrets. Least of all from Woakes.
"I'm just proud of myself. It's quite fitting to be where I was where I made my debut 10 years ago. I think I've played 47 (more) games in that time which, in 10 years, is not that many as an international cricketer. A lot would have played a lot more.
"But, stood here now, I would have snatched your hand off for anything that I've achieved."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo