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Match Analysis

Chris Woakes basks in honeymoon phase of his second T20I coming

Few would have expected him to be at the T20 World Cup, but he's shown he belongs

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Chris Woakes is not meant to be at this T20 World Cup. He went five-and-a-half years without playing for England in the format before his recall earlier this year, with his focus instead on ODI and Test cricket. If Jofra Archer had been fit, there is every chance Woakes would have spent the past week training at Loughborough in a marquee before flying to Australia next week.
There was a point, long ago, when this seemed like it might be Woakes' format. In the first appearance of his international career, back in 2011, he dragged England to a last-ball, one-wicket win in Adelaide; at the time, his package of top-and-tail bowling and lower-order hitting made him a modern T20 allrounder. Even during his effective sabbatical from England's plans, he remained an in-demand player at the IPL auction - but he had never considered a World Cup appearance likely.
"Having not playing international T20 cricket since 2015, to start thinking about being selected in a World Cup squad would have been a bit ambitious," Woakes said on Tymal Mills and Mark Wood's BBC podcast this week. "It was never really fully on my radar. I obviously got the call-up in the summer when there were a few injuries knocking around… but I still didn't really expect to be in this squad, by any means."
But Woakes is here regardless, determined to make the most of an unexpected opportunity as a new-ball specialist. Three games into the tournament, he has bowled 48 balls in the Powerplay, conceded 28 runs and taken four wickets. On Saturday night in Dubai, he bowled his first three overs off the reel, removed David Warner and Glenn Maxwell, and conceded seven runs.
The secret to Woakes' success is his length, made possible by a lethal cocktail of control and patience. According to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data, only one of his 18 balls in the Powerplay against Australia was full, the other 17 pitching at least six metres from the stumps; it was his only second full delivery in the Powerplay in the tournament to date. "I didn't feel like it swung much today so I just tried to find a length and find a bit of movement off the seam," he explained.
There were uncanny parallels throughout this game with England's thrashing of Australia at Edgbaston in the semi-final of the 2019 World Cup, a fixture that Woakes has described as "one of my favourites moments on a field". On both occasions, he took the key wicket of Warner - bouncer out two years ago, nicking off while shuffling down on Saturday night - and set the tone for England with two Powerplay wickets.
This time, the second was Maxwell's, pinned in front by a nip-backer which he played all around; between the two was a spectacular catch, recovering from an initial misjudgement by diving back and taking a one-handed grab to see off Steven Smith. Throw in Marcus Stoinis being pinned lbw by Adil Rashid's googly and England's belligerence while hauling in a low total and the similarities were obvious.
It was a measure of Woakes' skill that Australia hardly attacked his third over - the sixth of the innings, on average the most expensive outside of the death as batters look to exploit the end of the powerplay - taking only two runs and a leg-bye from it. The contrast between the two teams' approaches with the bat was stark: Australia's top order respected England's new-ball attack, hitting a single boundary and hardly playing an attacking shot; England treated Australia's with disdain, taking at least one boundary off each of the first six overs.
"Wickets in the powerplay give you a few balls' grace," Woakes had said on that podcast, "and almost a honeymoon period of just a few balls - which in T20 cricket is a lot - where you feel like you're on top of a team and on top of a batsman, and can just do what you want to do for a change."
"He's one of the best new-ball bowlers in white-ball cricket in the world. He's accurate, his pace is up, he's confident in his all-round skills."
Eoin Morgan on Chris Woakes
"Woakesy has been excellent," Eoin Morgan said after England's convincing run chase. "I think over the years his strengths have been epitomised tonight. He's one of the best new-ball bowlers in white-ball cricket in the world. He's accurate, his pace is up, he's confident in his all-round skills.
"It's not just about hitting a line and length or getting the ball to move. In our first game that we played here he bowled a beautiful slower ball to dismiss Evin Lewis so the growth within his game is huge, even though he's been right on top of it over the last four or five years."
The one warning sign for England arrived in Woakes' fourth over, held back until the 17th with Morgan left covering gaps in an attack featuring only three seamers. The over cost 20 runs, 16 off them off the bat as Ashton Agar carved two sixes over midwicket - the first off a slower ball, the second when Woakes missed his length looking for a yorker. It did not prove costly, but might cause a re-think in how Morgan uses his new-ball specialist.
But those are not questions for tonight. Few saw Woakes' second marriage with T20 coming, least of all himself - it would be wrong to deny him the chance to bask in his honeymoon period.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98