The Value of Chris Woakes in a World Smitten by Stokes
A new lease of life
Chris Woakes is no Ian Botham. He doesn’t ooze the same aura as that of the celebrated England all-rounder of the 80’s. He is no Andrew Flintoff as well, the next best all-rounder England produced after Botham. Leave those two legends aside; he is not even a Ben Stokes, the modern day phenomenon touted to be the best all-rounder in the world at present.
But Woakes doesn’t seem to care. Even if he does, he showed that he has got a class of his own as he brought up his maiden Test century and also registered bowling figures of 4/43 at the iconic Lord’s, thus propelling the home side to a victory over India by a massive margin of an innings and 159 runs.
This was a match where England was supposed to miss the services of Ben Stokes, their premier all-rounder by all means, dearly. Even though the 29-year old Warwickshire all-rounder has a surname that rhymes perfectly and seems to be in complete harmony with that of Stokes, his performances with the willow and ball in hand had seldom surpassed the levels that Stokes had shown at the international stage at least. But here he was at the ‘Home of Cricket’.. creating art out of simplicity! Terrorizing the Indian unit sans even a speck of brutality!
Although Woakes and Stokes belong to the same breed of cricketers—seam bowling all-rounders—the latter has always been rated a notch above the former. The reasons for that are many ranging from the aggression and intimidation that Stokes brings to the table as a batsman to the extra yards of pace and reverse-swinging capabilities he has as a bowler in challenging conditions. The energies they bring to the team are of different levels too.
You can hardly take the spotlight off Stokes when he is on the field. On the other hand, one can hardly find Woakes under the same spotlight. He is probably one of those many faces on the field which you can identify with the team itself. He may not be a one man army but he makes sure that his contributions count.
Moreover, Woakes can be imagined as a player straight out of the cricket coaching books and manuals. His copybook batting and bowling techniques are characterized by immaculate footwork and swift action respectively. Stokes is more of a modern day phenomenon. He is more about hand-eye co-ordination and less footwork while batting whereas his bowling is characterized by an action not so classical yet lethal and effective.
Despite all their differences, their all-round Test career statistics say that the difference between them is marginal. Although considered as the best all-rounder in the world at present, Stokes statistics in Tests is quite similar to that of Woakes. He averages slightly better than Woakes as a batsman and the differences between their bowling averages can hardly be considered.
Although the sample size of their Test records is a little bit small, their first class statistics spanning over a hundred matches for each presents an interesting picture. Woakes aces his talismanic teammate in both batting and bowling departments here in terms of average. While their batting average difference is still small, their bowling average differs by quite a large margin and so does their economy.
But where Stokes beats Woakes is his consistency in both home and away conditions. With the bat Stokes averages 32.60 at home and oddly higher in away conditions at 38.97. As far as bowling is concerned, his home and away averages of 32.92 and 32.34 are hardly differentiable.
Woakes, on the other hand, is a beast in home conditions. He averages 54.09 with the bat and 22.72 with the ball at home. However, he has a poor away record averaging 20.25 with the bat and 61.77 with the ball.
But even for all the consistency Stokes has across conditions it can’t be denied how brute a force Woakes is in home conditions. Both his first class and home Test records prove his credentials as the better all-rounder at home.
Stokes may have the edge of being the better all-rounder across formats as well courtesy his big hitting abilities and wicket-taking ability with the ball. But Woakes can't be ruled out in that department too. He might not have gotten that many batting opportunities as that of Stokes in limited overs cricket, but he has done a decent job as far as bowling is concerned. Even if you want to consider his limited overs batting capabilities, remember that match winning innings of 95 against Sri Lanka walking out to bat at 82/6 back in 2016? Does that ring a bell? If it doesn’t, go and take a look. I’ll wait.
If that seems too far ago, can we talk about his innings of 68 against West Indies back in 2017 which was again a match-winning one? And even if that seems to be too distant, his innings of 53* and 78 against Australia back in January this year should clear all the doubts about his limited overs batting potential. All of those came in a crisis situation and were scored at more than a run-a-ball. Three of those four innings turned out to be match winning ones as well.
Despite all these exploits, it's true that Stokes will always burn brighter as an all-rounder. His aura and charisma is something that gives him the edge over any other player in the world. However, it's an irony that while Stokes is busy making the headlines for all the wrong reasons, thus making his career stagnant in the doldrums, Woakes has certainly given his a new lease of life with this kind of a performance at Lord's.