There haven’t been many perfect endings in this most curious of summers, but Chris Woakes has been involved in more than most.
After a series of starring roles with bat and ball, in Tests and limited-overs alike, Woakes has capped his year by being named as the PCA Men’s Cricketer of the Year, but even that accolade is of secondary importance to the arrival, on Thursday morning, of his second daughter, Evie.
And in the spirit of the on-field interventions that earned him such recognition – among them, the backs-to-the-wall 84 not out that turned the tables in the first Test against Pakistan, and the three-wicket burst that swiped a stunning ODI victory from under Australia’s noses last month – Woakes had once again to keep his cool in a rather lively situation.
“The baby made it at 8.15 yesterday [Thursday] morning,” he said. “It all happened pretty quickly. Without giving away too many gory details, we didn’t make it to the hospital too [long] before that. It was all a bit of a whirlwind, but baby and mum are doing well and they’re home now which is really nice.”
“Nice” is the mot juste where Woakes is concerned. His summer’s work was also “nice” – despite being spent for long periods in England’s bio-secure bubbles at Emirates Old Trafford and the Ageas Bowl – and his achievement in not only securing his spot in England’s first-choice Test team but holding it on merit for five out of six matches was, he admitted, “pleasing”.
Woakes’ modesty masks a superbly competitive and in-demand cricketer across every format of the game – had it not been for a change of winter plans prompted by Evie’s impending arrival, he would have been in Abu Dhabi this afternoon, taking part in Delhi Capitals’ IPL campaign, after being picked up by the franchise for £160,000 at last year’s auction.
All of which goes to show, no matter how self-deprecating Woakes may be about his own performances, his team-mates and employers have no doubts about his value – as shown by the fact that this accolade, won by his team-mate Ben Stokes last summer following his twin heroics in the World Cup and the Ashes, is voted for by his peers in the professional game.
“It’s really nice to get that recognition,” Woakes said. “The fact that this award is chosen by your fellow professionals; the players you play with and against not just in the year but throughout your whole career, is really nice recognition.
“So many great players have won this award. But historically not many England players have won it. It usually takes a summer like Ben had last year to get it as an England player. But with the schedule being not as intense for the county guys, it gave us a little bit more of a chance. It’s a really great accolade for myself and really pleasing.”
There’s no question he earned it the hard way too. However you dice his statistics they make impressive reading – not least the fact that Woakes’ 17 Test wickets came at an average of 20.47, which was almost five points better than that of James Anderson, and took his overall record in home Tests to 87 wickets at 22.87 – outstanding by the standards of any player in history.
And while Stokes once again served up the summer’s grandstand all-round performance, earning the accolade “Mr Incredible” from Joe Root after seizing England’s series-squaring win against West Indies at Old Trafford, who should mop up the resistance on the final day of the match but England’s “Mr Dependable”, with figures of 5 for 50? Two matches later, it was Jos Buttler’s turn to overshadow him, the significance of his match-seizing 75 after a run of fallow scores outweighing the sturdiness of Woakes’ own unbeaten role.
“I’ll never take a five-for for granted and I think it was my first away from Lord’s as a Test bowler, as well, so that’s a nice one to have,” he said. “But that partnership with Jos I really enjoyed. The only two things I’d change about that are that Jos would have been there with me to walk off the field and also it would have been a full house on a Saturday afternoon in a sunny Manchester. Other than that, it was pretty much perfect.”
Had it not been for a stunning Australian revival courtesy of Glenn Maxwell and Alex Carey in the third and final ODI, Woakes might well have capped his summer with a Man-of-the-Series award to boot. His six wickets at 22.83 reaffirmed the value of deck-hitting line and length in 50-over cricket, but for much of that series-deciding contest, his 38-ball half-century looked like being the difference between the sides.
“I suppose they saw I had performed consistently over the summer,” Woakes said. “I don’t always get the limelight, which I’m perfectly happy with. But with such a strong England squad available, to have performed the way I did across the Test stuff and then followed it up with a few good performances across the ODIs has maybe nudged it my way.
“I think the most important thing for me is that I’m contributing to England wins. So the fact I played a decent innings at Old Trafford to win that Test up there stands out as one of the highlights of the summer. Maybe that swayed the vote.”
“I don’t always get the limelight, which I’m perfectly happy with. But with such a strong England squad, to have performed the way I did across the Tests and then followed up with a few good performances in the ODIs maybe nudged it my way”
The humility is unshakeable, but it’s also a key part of how and why Woakes continues to tick along with such an impressive body of work.
“That’s what works for me,” he said. “It might not work for everyone. Some players might want to get in the battle in different ways; they might want a bit of chirp out in the middle or find their fire in their bellies some other ways.
“But for me it’s just doing my job. I find that’s the way I get in the battle: trying to tick my boxes; trying to get the processes right and everything else takes care of itself. That’s what’s worked well for me. That’s the way I’ll continue to operate. I don’t see why I’d try and do anything else.”
And at the age of 31, Woakes has no reason to believe that the good times are about to start becoming more scarce – not least because of the age and endurance of the two senior England seamers, Anderson and Stuart Broad, whom he pipped to this award.
“I feel I’m getting better which is a good place to be as a 31-year-old,” he said. “People start looking at your age, and I’ve only got the two GOATs ahead of me to look up to, really. Broady and Jimmy have got better since turning 30. I certainly feel like I’m getting better as a cricketer so I’ll continue to operate in the way I do.”
As for his winter’s schedule, there’s not a lot of reason for Woakes to look too far beyond the nappy bin right now. Though he has admitted to some mixed feelings about reneging on his IPL contract, he knew in the circumstances it was right to make up for the time spent away from his family this summer – including his two-year-old elder daughter, Laila.
“It feels like it’s been the right decision,” he said. “With the baby arriving. I’d have been going to the IPL feeling a bit drained and needing a break. Family life, at the minute, is obviously really important to me so I’m really pleased, in a way, that I did pull out.
“Obviously you don’t want to burn bridges but Delhi were really good,” he added. “I spoke to the owner there on a number of occasions and he was fantastic in the way he dealt with it. He was still keen for me to go but, at the same time, said ‘family comes first and you have to do what’s right for you’. So I do thank them for being so understanding on that side of things.”
And, in the meanwhile, Woakes and his England team-mates will sit tight, and wait for their winter schedules to take shape in the midst of so much Covid chaos.
“The guys at home like myself are ticking over, really, trying to make sure we don’t get too fat and keep relatively fit,” he said. “There’ll be a lot of nappy changing and dad duties, I’m sure, over the next few weeks and then I’ll get back into a bit of cricket in mid-October, and just be prepared for anything.”
And if anyone is likely to be prepared come the go-ahead to travel again, it’s surely going to be Mr Dependable.