Chris Woakes, an apology
How wonderful is hindsight? When I walked out of Centurion back in January I was happy we'd won an away series against the then, best team in the world, but I was also disappointed that we'd lost the Test match. I'd also made a conclusion in my head. Chris Woakes, despite all his efforts, was not an international class bowler. In fact, I remember a few of us discussing it that night in a pizza restaurant, before I had to head off to the airport for my flight home. A military medium, up and down bowler, who could hold an end up with the bat. But not a player who'll ever win you a Test match.
A few months later, when Ben Stokes was injured for his home Test at Durham, I remember driving up to the Riverside disappointed that Jake Ball wasn't given his Test debut. Yes, Chris Woakes had just taken nine wickets in an innings for Warwickshire, but I just kept remembering that thought in my head when I walked out of Centurion. Why Woakes?
Here I am now writing this blog and Woakes is one of the first names on our team sheet. Remarkable. In a few months he's become the bowler we want the ball given to when we're in need of a wicket; the batsman who we'd want batting for our lives against Yasir Shah. I thought Michael Vaughan described it well with his "from Skoda to Ferrari" comment!
Woakes' performances should be a reminder to all of us that watch this great game. It's a reminder that some players take a little bit longer than others to develop and it's a reminder how important the ingredient of 'confidence' really is in top level sport. You can have all of the talent in the world, but if you don't have the ingredient of confidence, you'll never achieve your full potential. As supporters, it's a reminder that we shouldn't be too quick to write a player off. It's easy isn't it, after a player has had a few low scores, or gone a few games without wickets, to judge too quickly. To consign someone to the scrap heap.
I'm delighted for Chris Woakes. It's obvious he has worked very, very hard since South Africa. He's added pace. But I think it's more than that. The lad now has confidence. He feels settled in the side. He feels like he's not playing for his place, every time he pulls on an England shirt.
Woakes' story got me thinking about others who might have made a slow start to their Test career and then went on and flourished. The best example I could find is Sir Richard Hadlee, the famous New Zealand all-rounder and arguably their greatest ever cricketer. Hadlee started his Test career rather inauspiciously with 2 for 112 against Pakistan in Wellington. After 8 Tests he'd taken just 21 wickets at 41.62 runs apiece. With the bat his first 8 Tests brought 188 runs at an average of 20.88. Woakes after 8 Tests had taken 16 wickets at 41.25, scarily similar to Hadlee. With the bat he had performed slightly better with 234 runs at an average 29.25. Now follows the other striking similarity between the two all-rounders. Both turned their international careers around in their ninth Test match. Hadlee took an 11 wicket match haul versus India at Wellington in 1976 which kick started his career; Woakes took 11 wickets (40 years later) in the Test match against Pakistan at Lords.
Now I'm not saying that Chris Woakes is the new Sir Richard Hadlee, but what I am saying is players can take time to develop and find confidence. It's a lesson to all of us not to judge a player too quickly, because we could, just be throwing an absolute gem of a player, a potential all time great, on to the scrap heap.
Chris Woakes, I apologise.