Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

The curious case of Chris Woakes

Posted on 25 May 2022 by Piers Dunham

Chris Woakes is one of England’s best fast bowlers, some may even call him an all-rounder. Known as “Mr Perfect” by his teammates due to his impeccable hairline and a cover drive that Ian Bell would be proud of, the Warwickshire man seems to do it all.

When England play a test at home, Woakes is invariably one of the first names on the England team sheet, and more often than not he takes wickets. Away from home it is a completely different story. Woakes struggles to find rhythm and his performance drops massively. But why is this? I will be looking at all of the factors and trying to explain the curious case of Chris Woakes.

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Woakes’ raw stats

Let’s look at the raw stats. When counting every English bowler to have played over 20 test matches at home, Woakes’ strike rate of taking a wicket every 44.5 balls is the best. His average of 22.63 is only bettered than the legendary James Anderson, at 20.76. And so, you would think that this equates to Woakes having the best statistics of any England bowler, home and away? You would be wrong. Woakes’ away stats in comparison are awful. He averages 54.1 and strikes every 105.3 balls.

There are many variables at play here of course. First of which is the type of ball used in England, compared to in other countries. For test matches in England the ball used is a Dukes ball, compared to a Kookaburra or an SG that is used almost everywhere else.

The Dukes ball has six hand- stitched seams compared to only two six hand-stitched seams in both the Kookaburra and SG seams. The Dukes ball is also greased during manufacturing to protect it from the inevitable rain that an English summer brings. Both of these factors mean that England is typically an easier place to bowl and take wickets.

English pitches also suit Woakes’ bowling as they typically have plenty of grass on, which allows for the ball to seam off the pitch, making it easier to take wickets.

Bowling conservatively

Woakes’ aforementioned stats prove this to be true. But there are many cases of bowlers performing well in England and also taking plenty of wickers abroad. Woakes clearly does not fit into this category, but why is this?

When bowling in England, Woakes’ economy is 3.4, which is higher than his economy away from home which is 3.04. So on average, Woakes concedes more runs at home, but strikes significantly more often and for less runs per wicket of average.

This is because in England, Woakes bowls fuller, and attacks the stumps much more than when he plays away. This means that he is taking the risk of leaking runs, but for the reward of taking wickets.

Woakes needing to bowl fuller

For example, in the last test match he played in England, which was a defeat to India, Woakes took seven wickets and bowled a good to full length, for 62% of his deliveries. Compare this to the three test match series he played in the West Indies, where Woakes only hit a good to full length on 47% of his deliveries.

So, Woakes went from attacking the stumps to take a wicket, in almost two out of every three deliveries, to not even doing so half of the time.

Woakes is unable to replicate his excellent home form when playing away, because he does not give the ball a chance to swing or seam, which is what he is best at. This is also what is most likely to take  wickets.

Lack of pace

He has bowled shorter in both the recent tours of the West Indies and Australia, but he does not have the pace to rush test-level batsmen.

If we take a look at his average pace, compared to some of the best short-ball bowlers in test match cricket, it does not make for good reading.

Woakes’ average pace in test matches is just 83 MPH. If we compare this to best short-ball bowlers Woakes does not come close. Jofra Archer and Jaspirit Bumrah both reach 88mph, with Mitchell Starc tipping them at 89mph, and Kagiso Rabada setting the standard for pace at 90mph.

These fast bowlers can drag their average length back, to cramp the batsman up in the crease and rush them into making a bad shot.

However, at only 83mph, test match batters have more than enough time to play Woakes off the back foot, when he bowls short.

If Woakes is to improve his bowling figures away from home, he must stick to what he is good at; bowling full, and at the stumps. He may go for more runs, but the reward of wickets outweighs the cost of conceding a few more runs.

Right man wrong time

Another reason for Woakes’ poor away record, may be due to the time in the match which he comes on to bowl. Woakes rarely opens the bowling in England, with Broad and Anderson typically given the new ball.

Woakes is given the role of bowling first change, where typically the opposition have lost some of their top order batsmen. This means that when Woakes is at his freshest, he is bowling against middle-order, or lower order batsmen.

However, in the last two test match series away from home, Woakes was given a different role. He was opening the bowling, and coming up against the top order batsmen. This caused Woakes to struggle to take wickets, and he became impatient. Woakes rarely bowled the same ball twice, which upset his rhythm, and resulted in him only being able to take 12 wickets, in 8 test matches.

The case of Chris Woakes is certainly a curious one. So rarely has such a talented bowler performed so well at home, but has not been able to replicate that form elsewhere. Perhaps in days gone by, one could get away with being a ‘home-field’ specialist, but in the current cricket climate, where international test-matches are played so regularly, that is no longer possible.

If Woakes cannot rectify his problems away from home, he will find himself cut off from selection, although I fear at 33, that ship might have already sailed.

Statistics courtesy of:

Bowling records | Test matches | Cricinfo Statsguru | ESPNcricinfo.com

Chris Woakes Profile – ICC Ranking, Age, Career Info & Stats | Cricbuzz.com

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