Today Michael Wood pays tribute to one of England’s finest, if least exciting, team men of recent times.
As our white ball bowlers book their neck massage appointments after getting carted into the stands during the ODIs series, the absence of England’s “Mr Dependable” was painfully obvious to all. Oh how we missed the beautifully boring Chris Woakes to kill the Indians’ fun.
I love Chris Woakes but let’s admit it. He’s about as exciting as renewing your car insurance. He walks onto the pitch with as much swagger as Mark Ealham. And without the bulging muscles and tattoos of modern cricketers, he doesn’t even look like an international sportsman. He looks more like a health and safety inspector.
It’s not even as if he has anything interesting to say. You look forward to Mark Wood’s sparky comments for example, but Woakes seems to have memorised a staff handbook, ready to regurgitate its finer details at the drop of a hat.
With a whole colour chart at his disposal, the Warwickshire all-rounder picks grey every time. Winning the PCA Men’s Cricketer of the Year in 2020 was “nice”. His baby daughter returning home from the hospital – “nice”. He says “I don’t always get the limelight which I’m perfectly happy with”. I mean, come on man! You just want to shake him. I can see a lucrative post-playing career where he just chats with James Milner for one of those apps that helps you get to sleep.
You would not consider Woakes a superstar in any format so it always a good to remind yourself of what he has achieved. He regularly plays both white and red ball cricket for England, is an Ashes (one Test at the end of the home series in 2013 still counts!) and World Cup winner, and won the aforementioned PCA award last year. And whilst he has not played a T20I since 2015, he was still good enough at the format to be picked up by the Delhi Capitals for the October 2020 IPL, before pulling out due to the birth of his daughter. Nice.
Yet despite all those achievements, what he excels at most is his commitment to avoid the limelight. After all, even his best performances are overshadowed.
His best Test performance based on match stats came in a poor team loss to Pakistan at Lords in 2016. Yasir Shah won man of the match having spun Pakistan to victory. But look at how Shah and Woakes matched up: Shah took 10 for 141, Woakes 11 for 102. Both had an economy rate across the game of 2.35. Woakes scored 58 runs to Shah’s 41. But Pakistan won and so did Shah.
Similarly, in the ODI series with Australia in 2020, in the second match Jofra Archer won the Man of the Match award, taking 3/34. Woakes took 3/32 and added a valuable 26 runs.
In the World Cup in 2019, our unsung hero kept getting better as the tournament rolled on, clocking up an economy of 2.5 in the semi-final and 4.1 in the final. He took 3/37 in the final, a much forgotten contribution compared to the drama of Ben Stokes. And yet everybody soon forgot. How England could’ve used that economy rate in India.
That PCA award last year was no fluke either. In 2020 he took 17 wickets at 20.47. His home Test record now stands at 87 wickets at 22.87. Outstanding numbers.
Those directly involved clearly appreciate him. “He’s class, he’s so pure. He’s probably got the best cover drive you’ve ever seen” purrs Jason Roy. “His skill level is immense. He is one of the best players in our side” added Buttler in a promotional video the ECB released before the World Cup, presumably to remind fans that Woakes was a player rather than the team’s financial advisor.
I have watched Woakes play live in eight Test matches but cannot really remember anything he did. He’s almost too orthodox to remember. Take his conventional bowling action – none of the windmill arms of a Steve Harmison, pumping knees of Steven Finn, or the stuttering approach to the crease of a Jasprit Bumrah. It’s just a get in, get the job done, and go home for a cup of tea approach. Utterly forgettable but effective.
His batting is the same. It’s absolutely textbook. Yet even when he scored that lovely Test hundred, you’d do well to remember any of it.
But that’s not to say that Woakes isn’t as worthy or important as any other member of the team. I love him just the way he is. And I want him to be exciting about as much as I want my account to tell me about his sexual conquests.
The truth is that great teams need boring players. Because like Claude Makele for Chelsea or Richard Hill for the England rugby team back in the day, having unflashy players who go under the radar because they’re so consistent is gold dust.
So will Woakes ever emerge from the shadows of Anderson, Broad and Archer? I doubt it. But I’m sure that he’s perfectly happy with that. And we’re sure to miss him when he’s gone. Even when we forget his name in pub quizzes.