After recovering from a knee injury, the Ashes series player made his time with England count.
Fortunately, Woakes’ story has a happy conclusion.
Given a sample size of three Test matches out of a potential five, Chris Woakes’ selection as player of the series for the 2023 Ashes was impressive. But, given the significance of Brummie Botham, who helped England win two of the final three Tests to draw 2-2 with Australia, the move made perfect sense.
The fact that Woakes is even here is a major accomplishment. The 34-year-old feared he would never play cricket again a year ago before parachuting in to save England at Headingley.
Woakes returned to the United Kingdom with the persistent ailment in his right knee worse than ever after a hectic 2021–22 winter in which he was the only bowler to play in the T20 World Cup, the Ashes, and a tour of the Caribbean. When he bowled, the pain was so intense that he wondered if his Test career of fits and starts was finally coming to an end. One that culminated in a disappointing return of 11 dismissals at 52.36 over six appearances under tough conditions.
Fortunately, Woakes’ story has a happy conclusion. Last summer’s operation, conducted by knee and sports expert Andy Williams, was so successful that Woakes was able to help England secure the 2022 T20 World Cup within months. He now has the Compton-Miller medal to go along with his 2019 50-over World Cup medal. His bowling average is now under 30 (29.13), he had his maiden five-wicket haul against Australia in the fourth Test, and his stock among English fans has never been greater.
“The way my knee felt, I wasn’t sure if I was going to play cricket again,” Woakes acknowledged. “If I could go back to the end of that tour (in the Caribbean), I never imagined I’d be standing here now with what I’ve accomplished.” So, yeah, it’s quite amazing to think about.
“You don’t always get what you want or what you’re destined for.” But I declined the opportunity to attend the IPL (2023) for a variety of reasons, one of which was the possibility of becoming a part of this series.
“I never imagined I’d be standing here. That is not how far your intellect can go. You don’t say to yourself, “I can’t wait to be the player of the series in the Ashes. “You simply want to be a part of it, to participate, and to win. So to think I’m standing here right now… I believe I need to let that sink in.”
The final four dismissals at 18.15 came on the final day of the series, divided between two stints: the first taking out both set openers Usman Khawaja and David Warner, and the second taking out Steve Smith, who had brought Australia to within 110 runs of their target of 384. A collapse ensued, which was rounded off by a brace for Stuart Broad.
Woakes was previously ruled out of this Test due to a “tiny” quad injury suffered during his 10th over in the first innings. He bowled 25 in the first over, taking 3 for 61, then another 19 in the second. His consistency has compensated for that of his fellow quicks, who faded as the series progressed.
There were also runs, most notably the 32 in the Headingley chase, which sparked the comeback. Woakes was, more often than not, the man who stood up for England at the tail end of this Ashes series. Unsurprisingly, he ranks it as high as any of his other accomplishments, especially given how the club rallied from a 2-0 deficit.
“The last three weeks have been a bit of a blur—just incredible to be a part of.” I just showed up at Headingley knowing I was going to play, and I believe the feeling in the dressing room at the time was that we could win 3-2, which is incredible.
“In the past, I believe we may have thrown in the towel, but that was never the case.” We knew they were going to be outcome games since the captain and coach aren’t interested in draws. And coming off the back of Headingley, we were confident that we could win. We might have been 3-2 if it hadn’t been for the weather.”
Woakes is in a unique position in the latter stages of his career with Broad’s retirement and questions surrounding James Anderson, who turned 41 on Sunday and returned only five wickets at 85.40. Since making his debut against Australia at the Oval in 2013, he has never played more than nine Tests in a row, owing in part to their length.
“When he’s no longer playing, it’ll all be, If he hadn’t been in the era of Jimmy and Broad, he would have been more consistent in the England team,” Ben Stokes said after the game. Typically, Woakes fights back against the claim that these were ever barriers in his career.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve answered this before, but I consider myself very fortunate to have played with Stuart as well.” Jimmy is the same way. What I’ve learned from them has had a significant impact on how I’ve bowled throughout the years. If anything, it has boosted my worldwide career.”So we’ll never know what would have happened if they hadn’t been there. But I can only have positive things to say about the knowledge they’ve passed on to me and the games I’ve played with them. It’s been a true honor.”
Nonetheless, there is an opening for an experienced head coach to manage a bowling attack transformation. And Woakes wants it, despite all of his wealthy franchise possibilities.
“Yes, absolutely. I want to keep playing for England for as long as possible. Still, playing international cricket is the peak for me. You wish to be present on days like today. It’s not available anywhere else. So, obviously, you want this to last as long as possible while you’re still performing. I believe it is critical that the senior members of the team pass on their wisdom to the younger members of the team.
“I believe there’s a lot to be said for it. Because the international game differs greatly from what we play at the county level. So much information may be shared, and I aspire to be a part of it.”
Even when Woakes was out of action last summer, Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum spoke with the Warwickshire allrounder because they thought he would fit their strategy. That has played out exactly, and you wonder, like many others in the setup, how things would have gone for Woakes if this managerial style had been in place five years earlier.
There are no regrets at the conclusion of an Ashes series that was thrilling but could have been better. Worst of all, Woakes
“I’m just pleased with myself.” It’s quite fitting to be where I made my debut ten years ago. I believe I’ve played 47 (or more) games in that time, which is not a lot for an international cricketer in ten years. A lot more would have been played.
“But, standing here now, I would have snatched your hand away for anything I’ve accomplished.”
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