Chris Woakes 'touches base' on Test recall after winter of white-ball focus

In spite of tough 2021-22 tour, allrounder still hopeful he can play a part in upcoming Ashes

Chris Woakes smiles for the cameras, Australia vs England, 2nd Test, The Ashes, Adelaide, 1st day, December 16, 2021

Chris Woakes hopes to put himself back in the frame for the Ashes after missing England's Test revival under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum  •  Getty Images

"It's similar to 2019, isn't it?" Chris Woakes noted, as he looked at the 2023 schedule with its home Ashes series and a 50-over World Cup in the next six months. To say his eyes widened would be an understatement.
Woakes, now 34, was a prominent part of both big-ticket events four years ago. He was one of eight players to appear in all 11 matches in England's successful World Cup, then played four of the five Tests against Australia, which ended in a 2-2 draw.
Four years on, he remains a factor for both, but his standing in white and red-ball are very different. Having missed the entire 2022 summer with a cartilage issue in his left knee - eventually rectified through an operation at the end of July - Woakes' Test and limited-overs careers were set on divergent paths.
He was able to return in the winter, helping England secure the T20 World Cup, before low-profile international duties in South Africa and Bangladesh, with a stint with Sharjah Warriors in the ILT20 sandwiched in between. However, his appearance for Warwickshire in their County Championship fixture against Kent two weeks ago was his first first-class match in a year.
"It was a bit of a shock to the system," Woakes said of Warwickshire's victory of an innings and 14 runs, in which he took 2 for 28 and 3 for 59, sending down 32 overs in total. There was stiffness from the grind, but it was the good kind of hurt.
"I had a pretty good winter with the World Cup win and a couple of tours away with England and stuff. But it's always nice to get back with what's to come in the summer. It's a big summer for English cricket, it's nice to get a red ball back in hand and play red-ball cricket and feel relatively fresh."
All being well, Woakes will be on that plane to India to defend England's ODI crown. As for his involvement with the Test side, a bit more needs to go his way.
The last of his 45 caps came on a dire tour of the Caribbean on docile pitches and - most importantly - before the Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes regime took over and rejuvenated the Test side. Off the back of 10 wins out of 12, Woakes appreciates it'll take a lot for him to get back into the set-up.
It is why, prior to the start of the summer, he called up Stokes to see what he should work on and get a full scope of the current ethos.
"It's good to just touch base," Woakes said. "I did give him a call and spoke to him to see whether there was anything I needed to change. But he was happy for me to just go about my business, do what I usually do and he was just like, 'get yourself back into it, play some county cricket'. Obviously he couldn't give me any guarantees on playing in the first Ashes Test, but he said if you're playing well and being around red-ball cricket, of course you're likely to be there or thereabouts.
"Having not been in the environment with the lads and the way it's changed since Brendon and him had taken over, it seemed like a wise move to just touch base before I started my season. Just to see if there was anything I need to change. Anything that is being mentioned. Obviously, you hear all the noise from outside but I'm sure there are still messages from within the dressing-room which don't get leaked or whatever."
Woakes admitted there was an element of jealousy looking at how much fun the Test side are having, even if he's been privy to just as much fun and far more global success with the limited-overs side, under Eoin Morgan and now Jos Buttler.
"It's the way it's been, hasn't it? Because the white-ball team had done so well over the last however many years, and then we had a bit of a tough run as a Test side. Now it's kind of almost roles reversed with the Test boys having a great time and winning games of cricket and doing it in such a fashion.
"Naturally you want to be a part of that. I don't regret anything that's gone before. Every opportunity you get to play for England is a privilege and an honour. Albeit the last time I played for England in the whites, it didn't go overly great away from home."
It's important to dwell on those last appearances "in the whites" because the three-match series against West Indies is a peculiar anomaly. England were coming off the back of a humiliating 4-0 loss in the Ashes, without a coach or a director of cricket following the sackings of Chris Silverwood and Ashley Giles. Joe Root was on the verge of giving up the captaincy - something he would eventually do upon returning from this tour - and James Anderson and Stuart Broad had been dropped.
The onus was on Woakes to assume a more senior role on the trip, but an injury to Mark Wood in the first Test and Ollie Robinson's fitness issues throughout meant he also had to take on a far greater workload. He managed just five wickets across a mammoth 93.5 overs. Only in hindsight can he see it for what it is - one tour too many at the end of a gruelling winter programme that began with the 2021 World Cup and a tour of Australia. Both with strict Covid-restrictions that had a debilitating effect on his physical and mental wellbeing.
"I was pretty cooked by that West Indies series," Woakes said. "The surfaces we played on were horrendous, to be brutally honest. That whole winter, not just physically but mentally by that point, it was quite tiring. We had the World Cup prior to that in a bubble in Dubai which was draining in itself, then quarantine in Australia, then the Ashes which we all know what happened there. And then onto the West Indies.
"We were trying to build something new in the West Indies, Joe was keen to carry on as captain but Ben was having a heavy input as well. We were trying to move the team forward and make the changes we felt were needed. That was draining as well
"You look back and think we were almost trying too hard to get it right. At the end there probably wasn't too much left to give and my left knee was struggling at the time. But you get the opportunity to play for England and you snatch their hand off, don't you?"
Perhaps that puts this summer into perspective. Woakes is reticent to regard any Test appearance as a shot at redemption, or unfinished business. As far as his work in English conditions goes, there is little to prove given his 94 dismissals and average of 22.63, along with a batting average of 35.25. But even given the competition for places in a bowling group that has taken ten wickets in each of its 23 innings since the start of last summer, Woakes is desperate for a piece of the action.
Starting with Surrey's visit to Edgbaston on Thursday, he has three more Championship matches before the one-off Ireland Test. Even if he regards four-day game-time as a way of tuning up his skills for the white-ball challenges ahead, the primary focus is ensuring he states a loud enough case to be part of something special - such as England's first Ashes win since 2015.
"I don't look at it like I'm desperate to have another crack and prove anything, because I feel over my career I have proved what I'm capable of," he said. "But absolutely, I'd love to be part of an England team playing against Australia in a home Ashes series. It's an incredible series, home or away. In this current team there is a huge chance, if we get it right over a five-match series, that we could win a home Ashes series. So you want to give yourself the best opportunity to be part of that team.
"I by no means expect to walk back into the team, but I feel like with my experience, my record in England, if I can put in some performances early-season for Warwickshire in the next few games, then hopefully that gives me a chance of being in and around the squad."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo