Chris Woakes says that England’s multi-format players must find a way to put the Ashes phoney war on the back-burner, and focus instead on their immediate challenge at the T20 World Cup, after months of behind-the-scenes wrangling finally resulted this week in the naming of a 17-man squad for next month’s tour of Australia.
Woakes was one of the players with young families to have expressed serious reservations about the England touring party’s quarantine restrictions, both in the lead-up to the first Test at Brisbane on December 8 and potentially thereafter as the series moves across state borders. And while their stance has attracted some criticism, notably from Ian Botham, who last week questioned whether the players “fancied the ultimate test” of an Ashes tour, Woakes was adamant that the post-Covid world fully justified their refusal to put up with less-than-sympathetic conditions.
“We all realise the world is a different place to what it was 18 months ago, before the pandemic happened,” Woakes said. “So I don’t think there’s any hiding behind Covid. If we were living in a normal world, this wouldn’t be the case. We would be champing at the bit. But quarantine is a big thing. We’ve done a hell of a lot of it and so the thought of having to do 14 days of it with families is quite a big thing for a lot of people.”
Woakes admitted he does not yet know the precise travel arrangements for his family, given that the multi-format players are due to link up with the Test specialists in mid-November, at the conclusion of their campaign in the UAE.
“There is a small thing of the World Cup first, so obviously I have my eyes firmly on that,” he said. “It’s good news with regards to Australia and the Ashes tour. There was never too much doubt that everyone was keen to go and play but obviously there are things happening in the world right now and people want securities around what life is going to be like once we are there.”
While England’s selectors have managed to pull together their strongest available squad, with Jos Buttler confirmed as Joe Root’s deputy after his own concerns about the tour conditions, there is a notable lack of firepower compared to the plans laid out by the ECB this time last year.
With Jofra Archer and Olly Stone both injured, and Ben Stokes still unavailable despite tweeting on Monday that his latest finger operation had allowed him to grip his bat handle properly for the first time in six months, the selectors have opted for “Plan B”, with a reliance on accuracy and discipline to back up the squad’s sole out-and-out quick in Mark Wood.
And that’s where Woakes hopes to come into his own this winter. By his own admission, his experience in Australia on the 2017-18 tour was a chastening one, as he claimed 10 wickets at 49.50 in England’s 4-0 series loss. But, at the age of 32 – and after two years of stealthy improvement on overseas campaigns – he believes he now has the skills required to perform a key role with the Kookaburra ball, and give the likes of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ollie Robinson the back-up they will require to compete this time around.
“Obviously, I toured there in 2017-18 and it didn’t go as well as we would’ve liked as a team, so I’m really hoping we can do something special this time round,” Woakes said. “Going Down Under is never an easy tour, they play really hard cricket there, and tradition and history suggests we don’t go there and win too often as an England side. But the opportunity to compete and win an Ashes is something that doesn’t come around too often for players. So of course we are excited about that prospect.”
England have not won in Australia for more than a decade now, since Andrew Strauss’s men prevailed 3-1 in 2010-11. And yet, that bowling attack – led by Anderson, with the likes of Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan playing key roles after Broad’s tour was cut short by injury – was also light on genuine 90mph-plus bowlers, and was instead notable for the manner in which it “bowled dry” to frustrate Australia’s batters in the course of three innings victories.
“We do have Mark Wood as one bowler with express pace,” Woakes said. “By no means do we have anyone bowling above 85[mph] after him, but teams have had success there by being relentless, putting the ball in the right area, and moving it off the straight and having good plans.
“We have to come up with plans to get their best players out, and to try and take 20 wickets to win Test matches. We have to draw on the experiences of teams that have been there and won. Not only the 2010-11 England side, but more recently India and South Africa before that, and try to replicate how they did it.”
Given his primary focus on white-ball skills in the UAE, Woakes said that he had not yet been practising with a Kookaburra this winter. However, having gone (for a variety of reasons) more than a year between Tests, he can take some confidence from his relative success in his two most recent overseas appearances, with a total of seven wickets at 25.71 in New Zealand and South Africa in 2019-20.
“I haven’t played a huge amount of overseas cricket since [the 2017-18 Ashes], but when I have, I feel like I have improved,” Woakes said. “I feel like I am bowling a better length more consistently and actually I have to been able to get that Kookaburra ball to move a bit, when I haven’t previously.
“I am four years older [than in 2017], I have played more cricket, I’ve got more experience under my belt, and I believe I am a better bowler now than I was then. I have played a lot more frequently since then and I feel a bit more at ease at that level.”
For the time being, however, Woakes’ primary focus is on his return to the T20I squad – and the prospect of adding the 20-over World Cup to the 50-over crown that he played such a key role in winning in 2019. Despite playing just ten T20I matches in more than a decade of international cricket, Woakes’ exploits for Delhi Capitals in the IPL have earned him another shot in the shortest format, and one that he is eager to seize.
“We have no choice [but to compartmentalise],” Woakes said. “We have a big World Cup in front of us, you don’t want to get to the end of the World Cup and think ‘I wasn’t fully engaged’
“We have to give this our full attention – what is going on with the Ashes is on the back-burner and there are people dealing with that on our behalf. You can’t get too fixated on that – it is important we focus on the here and now. It is a great opportunity to lift some silverware for your country and, to be honest, I think this T20 World Cup could pretty much be won by anyone.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket
‘Don’t perform, you don’t get chance’
India coach says squad for the New Zealand series and Women’s World Cup picked itself, going by each player’s recent performances
Addressing a virtual press conference from Mumbai, Powar, when asked if Pandey and Rodrigues’ experience would be missed on either assignment, said: “Not really. At the end of it, five selectors, captain, the coach – they have their discussed all the players and we came out with 18 players who can play better in the New Zealand series as well as in the World Cup.”
“Every player knows. Whoever is not in the team knows why they are not there,” Powar said. “That communication from, say, captain, coach, selectors – it is not a one-time communication; it’s been on for a long period of time – at least last six months, I was very clear about the roles. I told them, specifically, what is expected out of them, and end of it this is a competition, a competitive position, so you have to perform. If you don’t perform, you don’t get your chances.
Now, Powar said the group picked itself, going by recent performances of each selected player. “So, if you look at it, you cannot pick everyone. There’s only 15 [in the primary squad] and then three standbys. And we were looking at the particular things, like fast bowlers, like Meghna [Singh], Renuka – they’re doing well and they are going to get their chances in upcoming matches.
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha
Women’s World Cup 2022 – India captain Mithali Raj says ‘too much importance is given to strike rate’
India captain wants her batters to dig their heels in and ‘play according to match situation’
“I think too much importance isn’t given to strike rate by you all?” Raj asked in response to a question on India’s takeaways regarding dot-ball percentage and boundary rates from the Australia tour, where they lost the ODI series 2-1. “Because it is always spoken [of] when it comes to batting or putting up big totals.
‘I just wanted to know if you all only follow the strike rates of the India players or the players from the other teams, because if you might give me an opportunity to enlighten [you], the Australia [ODI] series itself, the game that Australia won, the decider, if you’ve seen Beth Mooney, who scored her 50 in 80-odd balls, but she went on to play a match-winning innings for the team.
“So, as for me, I believe that cricket is a game played on situations on the ground. And yes, it is important that we keep that in mind that we need to have a healthy strike rate. But at the end of the day, it’s how our batting unit revolves and [what] the depth of the batting unit in our team [is].
“So yes, when we have to score 250-270, we need to have a healthy strike rate, but having said that, we will not only entirely focus on strike rate, it’s important to play an innings to win and build partnerships, and that happens, not because of strike rate but because you apply and play according to the situation on the ground. Sometimes you have to play fast, but sometimes you have to play to get your team out of the hole too.”
India, who were runners-up in the 2005 and 2017 tournaments, are looking to win their first world title in New Zealand in March.
More to follow…
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha
Recent Match Report – Strikers vs Thunder Knockout 2021/22
Team’s remarkable march towards an unlikely title continued as they beat Thunder by six runs
Adelaide Strikers 6 for 184 (Cockbain 65, Short 39, T Sangha 2-15, Sandhu 2-40) beat Sydney Thunder 6 for 178 (J Sangha 61, Ross 56, Conway 2-33, Siddle 2-41) by six runs
Strikers, who had been bottom two for much of the regular season, play two-time defending champion Sydney Sixers on Wednesday at the SCG with the winner to book a spot in Friday’s final against Perth Scorchers at Marvel Stadium.
It was heartbreak for Thunder, who finished third in the regular season and looked on track to chase down Strikers’ 6 for 184 only to fall short.
Conway and Siddle star under pressure
In-form Strikers had beaten Hobart Hurricanes in a sudden-death final on Friday but this proved much more difficult against Thunder’s imposing batting order. For the first time since he departed late in the season, star spinner Rashid Khan was desperately missed with his replacement Fawad Ahmed wicketless.
It came down to the final over delivered by Conway, who was under pressure when Ross hit a boundary off the third ball. But Conway proved the hero to conjure a famous Strikers victory as their stunning resurgence continued.
Thunder fall short amid contentious Khawaja dismissal
For chunks of the season, especially when they peeled off a six-match winning streak, Thunder looked like genuine title contenders so they will be frustrated to fall at this hurdle.
But the match turned in the seventh over when Khawaja sliced to a forward diving Fawad at short third man with the fielder claiming the catch. Replays appeared to show the ball hitting some turf before going into Fawad’s fingers but the third umpire believed there was not enough evidence to overturn the soft signal.
A stunned Khawaja trudged back and a shaken Thunder had to regroup quickly. They did exactly that with Sangha and Ross, who found form after two successive ducks, expertly working the ball around the MCG’s vast expanses. But it wasn’t enough.
Cockbain overshadows Test stars
It seemed like déjà vu for Strikers who were following their successful formula against Hurricanes after electing to bat. Alex Carey and Matthew Short appeared set to replicate their match-winning century partnership last start as they once again got off to a flier.
Carey was in a belligerent mood but his dismissal on 23 halted Strikers as Short departed then so too Travis Head, who has mustered just eight runs across two games since his return from his outstanding Ashes.
He couldn’t quite be there at the death but his innings proved vital and lifted Strikers to a total that was just enough.
Sams’ blinder brightens ragged Thunder
Sams has enjoyed another stellar season but things were unravelling for him early at the MCG. He came on during the four-over powerplay only to be belted for 19 runs and worse was to follow when he dropped big-hitter Short on 15 after misjudging a skier.
But a seething Sams made up for all of that with a blinder to dismiss Carey, where he leapt backwards on the midwicket boundary to pull off one of the best catches of the tournament.
It would eventually prove costly.
Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth
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