Chris Woakes Should Balance The Side In Stokes’ Absence

Today Mark Cohen suggests that England should balance their side at the Ageas Bowl by giving Chris Woakes more responsibility with the bat.

Yes, we might be getting carried away with the run chase heroics. Yes, Saturday’s victory against Pakistan included numerous slices of good fortune on what was a minefield of a fourth day wicket. And yes, Chris Woakes still only has a solitary test century to his name. But fate may have thrown England a chance to discover if they have a second world-class all-rounder in their midst.

One hopes that the tabloids will this time respect the privacy of Ben Stokes as he flies to New Zealand for personal family reasons. On a cricketing level, Stokes’ absence for the remaining two tests at the Ageas Bowl against Pakistan is clearly a blow for England. He wasn’t the hero with the bat in Manchester, but two quick wickets in a four over Friday evening burst changed what was beginning to feel like an inevitable march to a Pakistan victory. His bullish leadership will also be conspicuously absent, with the invigorated but more introverted Jos Buttler expected to step in as Joe Root’s deputy.

Aside from Stokes’ standalone value, his presence as an all-rounder adds an extra dynamic to the England team, with Root able to choose from a further four seamers (Anderson, Broad, Archer, Woakes) and spinner (Bess). The England captain and selectors must now decide whether they are to make some brave choices or play it safe.

The latter of these two options would most likely involve bolstering the top order by reinstating Zak Crawley, who had not done much wrong to be dropped after a second innings 76 in the first test against the West Indies. Crawley is a viable number 3 option, allowing Root to drop back to his favoured 4 spot.

As I say, this is the safe option. It might give England a better chance to amass more runs on what you would expect to be a flatter Ageas Bowl wicket. However, this will not improve England’s chances of taking 20 Pakistan wickets.

Chris Woakes is not Ben Stokes. Nobody is Ben Stokes. On a personality level, both men are akin to chalk and cheese. On a cricketing level, however, the next two weeks will reveal whether the ‘Brummie Botham’ is a genuine test all-rounder as well.

That nickname was coined during Pakistan’s last tour of England in 2016 and rightly suggests Woakes’ genuine qualities with both bat and ball. He was named man of the series on that occasion but had not made match-winning contributions with the willow since. Therefore his match-winning unbeaten 84 seemed to come as a surprise to many.

However, anyone who has watched England’s top order over recent years will have lamented the lack of quality and solid technique. Woakes, on the other hand, is orthodox and pleasing on the eye. Jonathan Agnew even suggested on TMS that Woakes could open.

Calls for the Warwickshire man and passionate Villa fan to move up the order should have grown stronger after his century at Lords against India in 2018. I was fortunate enough to witness this knock first hand and it was an innings of genuine class – a word his teammates often use to describe him too.

Fast forward another two years and Woakes is still languishing down the order somewhat. But he does not need to be hoisted from number 7 to the top 3. He should, however, be given the chance to prove himself at 6.

The naysayers will point to a test batting average of just 27 but this reflects the lack of opportunities he’s had to compile substantial innings in recent times. The equation was simple for him and Buttler on Saturday – bat until you have scored the runs – and Woakes showed he has more than enough ability and technique to warrant a chance in a genuine all-rounder’s slot.

Whenever a pundit discusses the Brummie Botham, they always seem to use the word ‘under-appreciated’. But if Woakes can score Stokes’ runs and take Stokes’ wickets during the remainder of this series than he could finally dispatch this label.

Although Sam Curran would offer variation with the ball and could replace Woakes at number 7 with some, (bingo), ‘under-appreciated’ batting, I would prefer England to pick Crawley and rely more heavily on their match-winner in the first Test to balance the side.

We don’t yet know when England will next play another Test match after this series, but when that time comes Ben Stokes should obviously be in the side. Until then, it’s time for Chris Woakes to grab his chance with the same level-headed determination with which he wielded his Gray-Nicolls bat on Saturday.

Mark Cohen

12 comments

  • This makes a lot of sense, especially since the 14 names released today from which tomorrow’s XI will be picked almost guarantee that Buttler will continue in possession of the gauntlets – Burns, Sibley, Crawley, *Root, Pope, Woakes, +Buttler, Bess, Broad, Archer and Anderson would work well, or given his ordinary showing in the last match Curran with his left arm offering extra variation could replace Anderson, reducing the length of the tail – Curran, Bess, Broad, Archer is a solid looking 8,9,10,11.

    • A batsman is picked to score runs, a bowler to take wickets. How does that justify the inclusion of bits and pieces junkies like Bess and Curran, neither of whom takes wickets despite being picked to do so and indeed don’t score consistent runs either and why are we talking about 9/10/Jack as though they were key to anything. Archer is not picked to score useful runs, any he gets are a bonus.
      Bess has had his chances on turning tracks and looks ordinary at best. Let’s face it if he was right handed Curran wouldn’t be considered. Does he change a game with his wickets, no! Like Buttler these guys are Mr Ed’s flavour if the month and if they don’t show it’s because they’re young and need time to learn and mature. No, not in the test arena! You’re picked at the top to do a job. If you’re not up to it make way for another. Being promising guarantees nothing moving from one level to the next. Buttler is not suddenly going to mature into a world class keeper, so why persevere when we have world class alternatives? With Stokes out Buttler could do a job as batsman at six.

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  • One decent innings after a long run of disappointing ones and we’re looking to promote. Even his county know where his value as a batsman is and it’s not top 6. This sort of knee jerk does a player no favours. He’s not a test all rounder and never will be, he’s a bowler who can bat, but not with enough reliability to be called a batsman.

    • Woakes has batted in the top 6 for Warwickshire. His first class average is 34 with ten hundreds. That’s a higher average (and 4 more hundreds) than Jos Buttler. He has also batted 6 for England before (in the Kerrigan test) so England obviously saw something in him. Personally I agree that 6 is too high for Woakes, but I don’t think the argument is absurd. I think he might be weak against the short ball. That’s my main concern.

      • He has batted up the order to cover for injuries and poor form of the top order, but not regularly. Anyway batting up the order in the county game is a totally different proposition from test matches. Giles opened for the county occasionally, that doesn’t make him a batsman. Let’s leave the bowlers to bowl and the batsmen to bat and not try to promote them after one good match. You could see from his reaction at the end part of it was amazement. I reckon at this level 7 or 8 is about right for him. If Foakes was keeping would he even bat at 7.

  • As well as Crawley for Stokes, let’s have Wood for Archer and Curran for Anderson please, otherwise the whole bowling attack will probably be trashed when the third test comes around.

    Honestly, if Anderson and Archer don’t get rested when It’s clear to everyone that they need a break, then this whole idea of rests and rotation will be exposed as a sham. If I was Stuart Broad, I’d be thinking to myself “Hey – I really was dropped and not rested for that first test.”

    • Woakes appears to be the sort of character who will do whatever is asked of him by the team and do it in an efficient and unfussy manner. Contrast this to Bayliss’s convoluted mind tricks for getting the best out of Moeen, i.e. allowing him to pretend to be a front line spinner coming in at 7 when he had the bat in hand and a top order batsmen who bowled part time spin when he had the ball, in order to alleviate any expectation from either role. Woakes clearly has both technique and temperament to do more with the bat, but moving him up the order (even if only in Stokes’ absence) seems to me to be a weakening a strength – depth in the batting line up. The balance and value that both he and Stokes bring to the side is as a bowling all-rounder and a batting all-rounder respectively. We don’t want to see Ben regularly bowling 17 overs a day, any more than we want to see Chris regularly entering the fray at 43-4! He is a fantastic cricketer, skilled in all facets of the game – and he’s doing very nicely where he is!

  • Whether Woakes is promoted or not it’s totally unrealistic to expect him to prove himself in one game. This kind of comment is best left to the hyperbole of Sky.

    As a follower of Warks I know he is a decent batsman and has saved games but he is in the side for his bowling. Under appreciated means other bigger and more pushy counties have more influence. Ed Smith is pretty appalling biased selector but even he hasn’t kept Woakes out.

    My son had an interesting take on Buttler and Bairstow as wicket keepers. They can’t stand up to the stumps for spinners and the result is the poor spinner sees his chances dropped all the time. He thinks that Bairstow ruined the career of Moeen Ali. Is Bess going the same way? Buttler isn’t in the side for his wicket keeping so if he’s good enough play him as a batsman. If he’s not then drop him. With Foakes as wicket keeper Bess might prove more threatening. Let’s find out.

    Stokes at Durham was always batsman first and bowler second. Mind you they had very good bowlers including Harmison and Onions!

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