When the longlist of players who had entered next week's IPL auction was first circulated around franchises at the start of the month, Chris Woakes' name was a surprise omission.
Woakes has played for three different teams in his three IPL seasons - Kolkata Knight Riders in 2017, Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2018 and Delhi Capitals in 2021 - and would almost certainly have found a suitor on December 23. While he might not have sparked the scale of bidding war expected for his England team-mates Ben Stokes and Sam Curran, the demand for seam-bowling allrounders is always high at mini-auctions.
But after missing the whole of the 2022 summer with injury and watching the transformation of England's Test team under Stokes and Brendon McCullum from afar, Woakes explained that he will instead spend April and May trying to force his way into Ashes contention through performances for Warwickshire in the County Championship.
"It wasn't an easy decision, by any means," Woakes told ESPNcricinfo. "There's still a part of me that wishes I could go because the IPL is a great tournament and financially it could be very rewarding - but I didn't want to make the decision solely on finance. It's a tricky scenario: having just won a World Cup, potentially stock could be high. There are obviously some other players who are likely to go big but I could have been next on the list behind them.
"I had conversations with a lot of people and some with franchises as well, who sounded keen, which made it harder to pull out. But having not played any cricket in the English summer last year, it's a good opportunity for me to set myself up for, hopefully, a really strong summer with England.
"It's an Ashes year and I haven't played much red-ball cricket. I need to suggest to people and remind people that I can play red-ball cricket and get through it - both from a fitness point of view, but also to show what I can do to try and have a go at being part of the Ashes."
Woakes spoke to Rob Key, England's managing director, during the T20I tour to Pakistan in September, who reassured him that he was still seen as an all-format player. "He was very clear that I was still a part of the Test plans," Woakes recalled, "but obviously I needed to get myself fit, and get my knee right."
Having taken the new ball during England's successful T20 World Cup campaign, he was then left out of the squad for the ongoing Test series but is at peace with his omission. "At that moment, the World Cup was the priority," Woakes said, "and we needed guys going to Pakistan that had fitness behind them, or that bowl a touch quicker. My success in the subcontinent with a red ball has been quite limited, so I feel like it made sense."
With two young daughters at home, he has been awake early in the morning watching the series on TV. "To go 2-0 up in Pakistan is an incredible effort. They're such hard surfaces to force results on, so to do it in the fashion that they have has been amazing. Credit should go to Ben's captaincy and the way the bowlers have bowled as well: you can score as many runs as you want to but unless you can take 20 wickets, you don't win Test matches. It's been great to watch and I'd really love to be a part of it."
Woakes made his Test debut in the final match of England's Ashes win in 2013 but missed their 2015 victory through injury and has been part of one drawn series and two defeats in Australia in the years since. As a result, he is desperate to have a crack at them next summer. While his stock fell slightly after a difficult 2021-22 winter - he took 11 wickets at 52.36 across England's Australia and Caribbean tours - he remains a formidable bowler in English conditions, with a career average of 22.63 in home Tests.
"Winning an Ashes series where you play a really strong part would be extremely rewarding. It's something that I probably would like to tick off," Woakes said. "The 2019 series was a tight one with some amazing games to be part of, but there's nothing like winning an Ashes series. Fingers crossed, that's something we, as an England team, can do in the summer."
Skipping the IPL will give him the opportunity to play for his county, Warwickshire, in the early months of the Championship season. A combination of England commitments and injuries has heavily restricted his availability in recent years: he played a crucial walk-on role in their 2021 title win, but has only made five appearances for them across formats in the last three seasons.
"The IPL is hard to turn down because the best players go there, it's financially rewarding and it's been brilliant for my career," Woakes said, "but the trade-off is that opportunity to play for Warwickshire, which I've always loved doing. It's tricky as an international player, particularly with the current schedule, and more so as a bowler: you don't get the opportunity to come back and play much for your county.
"I don't blame members and fans for giving myself and many other players a bit of stick for not playing for their counties enough, but the schedule means it is just so hard to do now. I love playing for Warwickshire and I'd love to play more, it's just almost impossible. It'll be a good time to put the Bear back on and hopefully put in some early performances and get myself in the reckoning for the Ashes."
His involvement in the inaugural ILT20, where he has a contract with Sharjah Warriors, means that the financial blow of missing the IPL will be less severe than it might otherwise have been and illustrates that he has plenty of attractive offers coming his way from the franchise world.
But Woakes insisted that, at 33, he has no intention to give up red-ball cricket any time soon and that his knee - which kept him out of seven Tests and 15 white-ball internationals in the summer - feels "a lot better than it was" after surgery in August left him in a race against the clock to be fit for the World Cup.
"That time might come, but while I'm still capable and still available for selection, my appetite for Test cricket is still really high," he said. "With the age I am, as a fast bowler, you can easily get sucked into being pigeon-holed as being close to the end, almost. You've seen with Stuart [Broad] and Jimmy [Anderson] - and I know they don't play white-ball cricket - that we try and keep ourselves as fit as we possibly can and there's no reason why you can't play until you are a lot older nowadays.
"I'll try and play as long as I possibly can. I certainly don't want to hang on. That decision might be made for me and if that's the case, I might be a white-ball specialist one day, but whilst I can and whilst I'm enjoying it, I'll try and be that three-format cricketer for as long as I possibly can."
Woakes looks set to travel to South Africa for England's ODIs in late January, and is yet to discuss with the team's management whether he will travel to New Zealand for the Test series or Bangladesh for the white-ball tour in February-March, with the short turnaround between the two tours likely requiring England to pick completely separate squads.
But for now, Woakes has the rare chance to spend the Christmas period at home with friends and family. "It's been nice to spend a bit of time decompressing, letting it all sink in after the T20 World Cup. My two young girls have been keeping me busy: my eldest daughter is four-and-a-half and my youngest has just turned two. Especially having missed last Christmas, to have a whole December at home will be really nice."