So far, The Ashes has been encircled mainly by two talks – England’s romance with injuries and Australia having an upper-hand going into the series. It has almost been a nightmare for the English side after missing out few players due to injury and other issues. But, England’s fortunes have started taking a U-turn with their players peaking in time in the warm-up games so far.
It’s apparent that Ben Stokes’ shoes are too big to fill for any player in the squad, but Chris Woakes’ current form is indeed plummeting the agony. The all-rounder has pulled his socks and bowled extremely well in the warm-up games so far. Woakes has meant business and found the rhythm at a pivotal time.
Warm-up games are played for a reason, it helps the visiting team to adjust to the conditions and find rhythm. They hold massive value and England so far seemed to have benefitted a lot from it.
In the ongoing encounter against Cricket Australia’s XI, Woakes produced a gem of a spell with the new ball to see the opposition staring down the barrel at 91 for 4. He returned with the old ball to belt two more wickets and further finish Day 1 with six scalps to his name while CA XI were placed at 249 for 9. He looked threatening with the new ball, ending the first spell 4 for 15 in six overs. In three innings so far, Woakes has picked 12 wickets at a staggering average of 10.25.
Woakes has adjusted to the conditions well and have been exploiting it with the new ball. At Adelaide in the second warm-up game, Woakes had two wickets in the first innings, but wreaked havoc in the second, picking four. Woakes was equally supported by Anderson and Overton as Cricket Australia were sailing in troubled waters at 25 for 7. They were eventually bowled out for 75. In both the matches, Woakes had Anderson in Adelaide and currently has Broad in Townsville to share the new ball. It’s not an often when bowlers of Anderson and Broad’s calibre get overshadowed by someone. This clearly speaks the kind of impact Woakes has had in the warm-up games and how crucial his role will be in the series.
Woakes’ harshest critics might say that he had a relatively incompetent opponent to bowl at, but the kind of pace and swing he generated cannot be overlooked. Yes, the team he will play on November 23 at the Gabba will be resilient, but Woakes current form suggests he is ready to take on the big guns.
With Stokes’ participation in the series hanging by a thin thread, Woakes will undoubtedly be playing the crucial all-rounder’s role in the line-up. He has the set of skills required to succeed in Test cricket and has fared well in the recent times.
“With Ben Stokes being away, it means all of us have to step up. I hope I can do that – score runs and pick wickets. That’s my plan and I feel like I’m building well into the Test series. All the numbers are saying that I’m close to being cooked. I’m pleased with where I’m at – a week away from the first Test, it’s always nice to hit a bit of form. As a bowling unit, we feel like we’ve done really well. We want to continue to work on plans we might be taking into the Test series and hope to bring about some confidence,” Woakes was quoted in a report from Skysports.com.
England have the bowling attack to excel in Australia. If truth be told, Australia does have some concerns in their batting order, which England will look to exploit. In James Anderson and Stuart Broad, England does have a deadly new ball pair and have banked on the two heavily to get wickets. Woakes’ success will only ease off the pressure and provide a cushion.
England were obliterated by some serious pace and bounce by Mitchell Johnson, the last time they toured Down Under. Australia does have a threatening bowling attack with the presence of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins on their pace battery. Starc has been unstoppable in the ongoing Sheffield Shield, which will only add to England’s worries. Although England’s batting has done well in parts in the warm-up games, still, they need more consistency and big scores with the bat.
Woakes has a knack for performing under immense pressure and has done it in the past. It certainly brings the best game out of him and for this series, England are unquestionably under the pump. Will Woakes bring his best out and try to fill in Stokes’ shoes? Well, only time will reveal if he can or not, but the signs are promising. As of now, he seems to have adjusted with the conditions pretty well and found his mojo.