‘It wasn’t an easy decision’ – Woakes on sacrificing IPL chance for the Ashes

When the longlist of players who had entered next week’s IPL auction was originally sent to clubs at the beginning of the month, Chris Woakes’ name was noticeably absent. Woakes has played for three different IPL clubs – Kolkata Knight Riders in 2017, Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2018, and Delhi Capitals in 2021 – and would very definitely have found a suitor on December 23. While he may not have triggered the bidding war like his England teammates Ben Stokes and Sam Curran did, the demand for seam-bowling all-rounders is usually strong at mini-auctions.

Woakes on sacrificing the IPL chance for the Ashes

'It wasn't an easy decision' - Woakes on sacrificing IPL chance for the Ashes-1

Woakes, however, explained that after missing the entire summer of 2022 due to injury and watching the transformation of England’s Test team under Stokes and Brendon McCullum from afar, he will instead spend April and May attempting to force his way into Ashes contention through performances for Warwickshire in the County Championship. By no means was it an easy choice,” Woakes told ESPNcricinfo. “There’s still a part of me that wishes I could go because the IPL is a terrific competition and monetarily it could be extremely profitable – but I didn’t want to make the choice entirely on cash.

It’s a delicate situation: after winning the World Cup, shares may be high. Obviously, there are some other players who are expected to become big, but I might have been next on the list after them. I had talks with a number of individuals and some had franchises as well, who seemed enthusiastic, which made it tougher to back out. But, after not playing any cricket in the English summer last year, it’s a terrific chance for me to build myself up for a solid summer with England.

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It’s an Ashes year, and I haven’t played much red-ball cricket. I need to propose and remind people that I can play red-ball cricket and get through it – both for fitness and to demonstrate what I can do to try and make the Ashes squad. During England’s T20I trip to Pakistan in September, Woakes talked with Rob Key, England’s managing director, who reassured him that he was still considered an all-format player. “He was quite clear that I was still in the Test plans,” Woakes said, “but clearly I needed to get myself healthy and get my knee right.”

He was left out of the team for the present Test series after taking the new ball during England’s victorious T20 World Cup campaign, but he is OK with his absence. “At that period, the World Cup was the objective,” Woakes said, “and we wanted people going to Pakistan that had fitness behind them, or who bowl a little faster. My success with a red ball in the subcontinent has been limited, so it made sense. With two little girls at home, he had been up early watching the series on TV.

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Woakes on sacrificing IPL

'It wasn't an easy decision' - Woakes on sacrificing IPL chance for the Ashes-2

To go up 2-0 in Pakistan is a fantastic performance. They’re such difficult surfaces to force outcomes on, so to accomplish it in the manner that they did has been incredible. Ben’s leadership and the bowlers’ bowling deserve credit: you may score as many runs as you want, but you don’t win Test matches until you can take 20 wickets. It’s been fascinating to observe, and I’d want to be a part of it.” Woakes made his Test debut in the last match of England’s Ashes triumph in 2013, but he was injured in 2015 and has since played in one drawn series and two losses in Australia.

As a consequence, he is eager to compete against them next summer. While his status dropped significantly during a tough winter in 2021-22 (he took 11 wickets at 52.36 on England’s Australia and Caribbean tours), he remains a strong spinner in English conditions, with a lifetime average of 22.63 in home Tests. Winning an Ashes series in which you play a significant role would be incredibly fulfilling. “It’s certainly something I’d want to check off,” Woakes remarked.

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The 2019 series was a close one with some wonderful games to be part of, but there’s nothing like winning an Ashes series. Fingers crossed, we’ll be able to accomplish it as an England squad this summer. By skipping the IPL, he will be able to play for his county, Warwickshire, in the early months of the Championship season. A mixture of England commitments and injuries has severely limited his availability in recent years: he was an important walk-on in their 2021 championship triumph but has only made five appearances for them across forms in the previous three seasons.

The IPL is hard to turn down because the greatest players go there, it’s financially lucrative and it’s been good for my career,” Woakes said, “but the trade-off is that chance to play for Warwickshire, which I’ve always enjoyed doing. It’s difficult to come back and play for your county as an international player, especially with the present schedule, and much more so as a bowler. I don’t blame members and fans for giving myself and many other players a bit of flak for not playing for their county more, but the scheduling means it is simply so hard to accomplish today. I like playing for Warwickshire and would want to play more, but it’s almost impossible.

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It’ll be a nice opportunity to put on the Bear again and perhaps put in some early performances to put myself in contention for the Ashes. His participation in the inaugural ILT20, where he has a deal with Sharjah Warriors, means that the financial pain of missing the IPL would be less severe than it would have been otherwise, and it shows that he has lots of appealing offers from the franchise world. Woakes, however, insisted that he has no plans to retire from red-ball cricket anytime soon and that his knee, which kept him out of seven Tests and 15 white-ball internationals this summer, feels “a lot better than it was” after surgery in August left him in a race against the clock to be fit for the World Cup.

That moment may come, but as long as I’m competent and eligible for selection, my thirst for Test cricket remains strong,” he remarked. “With the age I am, as a fast bowler, you can easily be caught into being pigeon-holed as being near to the end, virtually. You’ve seen with Stuart [Broad] and Jimmy [Anderson] – and I know they don’t play white-ball cricket – but we strive to stay as fit as we can, and there’s no reason why you couldn’t play till you’re a lot older anymore.” I’ll attempt to play for as long as I can. I don’t want to cling to anything. That choice may be made for me, and if so, I may become a white-ball specialist one day, but as long as I can and love it, I’ll aim to remain a three-format player for as long as I possibly can.

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Woakes is expected to fly to South Africa for England’s ODIs in late January but has yet to discuss with team management whether he will travel to New Zealand for the Test series or Bangladesh for the white-ball trip in February-March, given the short turnaround between the two tours. But for the time being, Woakes has the uncommon opportunity to spend Christmas at home with friends and family. It’s been good to spend a little of time decompressing, letting it all sink in after the T20 World Cup, he says. My two little daughters have kept me busy: my oldest is four and a half years old, and my youngest is two years old. Having a complete December at home will be especially welcome after missing Christmas last year.


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