Thursday, 26 May 2016

Opportunity awaits

Thursday, 26 May 2016
Every injury brings an opportunity for somebody else. This week, that opportunity will fall for Chris Woakes, after Ben Stokes was ruled out of the rest of the series against Sri Lanka with a knee injury. Whist Stokes will certainly regain his place in the team upon return from injury - such has been his impact and talismanic effect over the past year - it will give Chris Woakes a chance to dispel the many doubters of his ability at test level.

I must admit, I count myself among those doubters. But though I might have picked Jake Ball ahead of him for the rest of the series, I would love to be proven wrong. Woakes always seems to be a nice guy, and his county record is certainly worthy of him being given this opportunity at international level. Both batting and bowling averages are superior to his fellow all rounder Stokes, and just this week he recorded the exceptional figures of 9/36 against Durham. He is a man in form with the ball, which can make all the difference when coming in to the team. And though he is set to bat at number eight, with both Bairstow and Moeen Ali being promoted a place in the order, as a man with nine first class centuries - who batted at number six on test debut - he can certainly be considered as a genuine all rounder.

So why then are there still doubts? Maybe it's because the man he gets compared to the most, Ben Stokes, is such an explosive player, one who never does anything by halves. Stokes, whilst being far from the finished article, showed almost straight away that he has that 'X factor' - the ability to win matches by himself, that makes people want to sit down and watch. It's a harsh judgement to make on Woakes, as it's not really a quality that can be taught, but it's one that England hold dear in their love affair with all rounders: Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff, Ben Stokes. Woakes isn't from the same mould. But it's hardly fair to judge him on what he's not, instead he should be judged on what he is.

Bowlers have a much tougher time of it than batsmen, and when you're on the fringes of the team it's hard to settle without instant success. Woakes' test career has been stilted, in and out of the team without having a proper chance to nail down that place. One match at the end of the 2013 Ashes series, two tests filling in for injuries in South Africa last winter. Even now his chances beyond this series may be more about what form Steven Finn can discover, than his own. It's hardly a chance to really nail down a place in the side.

For bowlers, it can often be a matter of luck. And that's something Chris Woakes often seems to lack. It's like he's still waiting for that breakthrough, the moment where it all comes together, a spell where one wicket turns to two and so on. So far things just haven't gone his way. Dropped catches haven't helped, and neither have pitches flatter than he'd be used to in the county game. But a lot of the time, he hasn't looked particularly threatening, and batsmen have just settled in against him. He has been yet to show that extra 'something' needed at test level.

Perhaps this match could be the moment that he needs. An early season pitch at Durham is sure to offer a lot for bowlers, and with Woakes in form, bowling quickly and swinging it both ways, this could be his best opportunity yet. Certainly we are yet to see the best of him at this level. Maybe this will be the time for him to make his mark.

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