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Quiet achiever Chris Woakes finds his feet overseas

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Amid the drama of Mark Wood’s resurgence and the promise of Ollie Pope, Chris Woakes’ contribution to England’s Test touring party could easily be overlooked.

That’s often the way of things with Woakes. He is, without doubt, a fine cricketer but, in the age of James Anderson and Ben Stokes, he has never quite been England’s best swing bowler and never quite been England’s best allrounder. It seems typical that he was Player of the Match in the World Cup semi-final. On the bigger stage, Stokes took the plaudits.

Quietly, though, Woakes has put together quite the career. He should, at some stage in the next week or so, play his 100th ODI – the World Cup final was his 99th – and, along with that winners’ medal, he is close to the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets at Test level. He has several entries on the Lord’s honours boards – for five-wicket hauls, a ten-wicket haul and a Test century. Only 22 England men have reached the 100 ODI milestone; only six have claimed more wickets. Woakes requires only three more wickets to climb into the top five. Oh, and he has a winners’ medal for each one of England’s domestic competitions.

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Not that you would every know it from watching him in action. While some modern cricketers embrace the celebrity lifestyle and take on the attitude to match, Woakes has remained as modest and unassuming as the day he turned up at Edgbaston as a teenager. At a time his friends might have been doing their A Levels, he was already established as the club’s new-ball bowler.

Not since FR Foster – more than a century ago – has the club produced a better allrounder. And, unlike Foster, Woakes seems most unlikely to be implicated in the murder of a prostitute, banned from Edgbaston and wind up in an asylum.

There are times you wonder if Woakes’ amenable nature has worked against him, though. He is, perhaps, just a little too easy to drop at times. Just as Moeen Ali was just a little too easy to move up and down the batting order, you wonder if he had been just a little bit more stroppy at times, he would have played more than those 33 Tests. Those Birmingham boys… Too nice for their own good.

The one gap on his CV has been his record in overseas Tests. Ahead of this winter, he averaged 61.77 in 12 overseas Tests compared to 23.45 in 19 Tests at home. While he has rarely bowled poorly, without the Dukes ball he has sometimes seemed impotent.

But if Anderson’s career has taught us anything, it is that players can continue to learn. And, over the last few months, Woakes has demonstrated an improved ability to gain movement from the Kookaburra ball. In two Tests, in New Zealand and South Africa, he has claimed seven wickets 25.71.

Yes, it’s a small sample size. And yes, in Johannesburg the surface offered seamers some assistance. But none of England’s other seamers – not even Wood – gained the movement enjoyed by Woakes and he was far from flattered by his final figures. On a horribly slow surface in Hamilton, he looked the most dangerous bowler on either side and, among his four wickets, were Kane Williamson, who edged a beauty, Ross Taylor and Tom Latham. After years of struggling to gain any movement with the Kookaburra, it felt like a breakthrough.

He credits, in part, Darren Gough for the improvement. Gough spent a couple of weeks with the England squad as a bowling consultant at the start of the New Zealand trip and encouraged Woakes to experiment more. In particular, he is using the wobble-seam delivery more and he is trying to hit a full length much harder than he has in the past; a tactic that can only be achieved with effort, fitness and strength.

“In the past I’ve tried to do exactly what’s worked at home,” Woakes said. “It doesn’t necessarily work as well, which is clear to see. Taking 20 wickets with a Kookaburra ball can be hard. So I did a bit of work with Goughy about what helped with him in conditions away from home.

“With this ball I feel like if I bowl seam up it just slides on. So, I’m trying to use my wobble-seam a bit more. I’ve used it in the past but I feel like I’m bowling it better now. And I’ve tried to drive the ball into that fuller length, rather than floating it into that length.

“With a Dukes ball you get that natural kiss with it. My bowling certainly gets a natural kiss off the surface. But here you have to snap it into that length. Just hitting that length a lot harder. I’ve tried to do that in the past but have always been slightly short. So I’ve tried to be brave and bowl a fuller length, which will still hit the top of the stumps.”

Despite those signs of progress, Woakes admitted it had been a somewhat frustrating tour for him. After that impressive showing in Hamilton, he was hopeful of playing in the first Test of this series in Centurion. But he went down with the sickness bug a couple of days before Christmas and instead spent both the holiday period and most of the Test in isolation in his hotel room.

Chris Woakes is pumped and his team-mates celebrate Getty Images

“It has been frustrating,” he said. “I got ill just before the first Test when I was hoping to get the nod and then had to wait until the last Test. Have I had a worse Christmas? No. It wasn’t ideal. But you get through it and playing the final Test match and winning the series 3-1 makes up for it.”

It is too early to say whether he will make another World Cup cycle. Or indeed, the next Ashes series. He’ll be 31 in March and, though he carries it with cheerful good humour, you suspect that long-standing knee injury means he never plays without pain.

“I can’t look that far ahead,” he said. “I never have. It’s hard to look four years down the line at potentially another World Cup, even an Ashes down under. I have to make sure that every time I get the opportunity to play for England I put my hand up and do my job. Hopefully I’ll still be involved.

“I’m really looking forward to this ODI series. It’s our first one-dayer since the World Cup final, so I’m really looking forward to getting that group back together and seeing what we can do. Whenever that team gets together we are excited about playing cricket together.

“I’m really pleased Eoin Morgan has stayed on. He’s so much more to give. He’s not old by any means and is probably playing the best cricket of his career. He’s one of the best and calmest captains I’ve ever played under. I’m glad he’s carrying on.”

Many of the same things could be said about Woakes.

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