In August 2000, Warwickshire’s Under-11 A side went to Truro for a tour. After an injury, Warwickshire called up a replacement reserve player, who normally played for the B team: Chris Woakes.
By the end of the tour, Woakes had gone from spare part to indispensable. “It was classic Chris - he just came up on the radar,” recalls Ed McCabe, who was then Warwickshire U12 coach. “He batted, bowled and fielded well - and they were surprised, as they hadn’t picked him originally.” Even 20 years on, the vignette remains the perfect embodiment of Woakes the cricketer and man.
Woakes grew up in Great Barr, a predominantly working-class area on the edge of Walsall, north west of Birmingham, in a family steeped in sport. He attended Barr Beacon Language College, the local state school.
Aged six he joined Aston Manor, a club three miles from the family home. As well as cricket, Woakes also played football with his two elder brothers. He was such a promising footballer that he got into Walsall FC's school of excellence, as a winger, and was offered a contract aged 14. But, by now, Woakes was increasingly focusing on his development as a bowling all-rounder.
“Every single game he’d get something like six overs, 1-20,” McCabe remembers. “He’d never grab the highlights but he just seemed to have a natural length.”
Compared to his Warwickshire team-mates, Woakes had two distinguishing traits: his fitness, and his attitude. “At U12s, you always get parents going, 'why isn't my kid opening the batting? Why isn't my kid opening the bowling?' There was none of that with Chris,” McCabe recalls. “He was always a really nice unassuming kid.”
For all Woakes’ promise, McCabe “had in my mind that because he played football he was technically behind on his cricket”. Two specialist coaches - the batting coach Neal Abberley and bowling coach Steve Perryman - honed Woakes’ game. “I remember Chris hitting the ball well through the off side when he was 14 and thinking he couldn’t do that when he was 12,” McCabe says. “We missed a trick batting him at eight.”
Perryman worked with Woakes from the age of 14. Using a yo-yo to drill the correct wrist position, Perryman taught Woakes how to swing the ball. And then, when he had learned the out-swinger, how to bowl an in-swinger too.
In Edgbaston’s indoor school, Perryman set up cones for Woakes to bowl at and then poles for him to swing the ball through. Perryman moved the poles every few balls, preparing Woakes for bowling to a left and right-handed pair. “He was always wanting to learn, he asked questions and he was just a joy to work with,” Perryman recalls. Woakes’ greatest traits were, “an uncomplicated bowling action - one things wouldn’t go wrong with”, and, "his composure under pressure".
These qualities ensured that Woakes had an immediate impact in first-class cricket: aged 19, Woakes snared 42 County Championship wickets. Within three years he made his England limited-overs debut - though, in truth, that also partly reflected how England used the shorter formats to bring through younger players.
In 2013, Woakes made his Test debut, as England used the luxury of having already retained the Ashes to see whether he could become a Test all-rounder. In his first six Tests, spread over three years, Woakes averaged 21 with the bat and 64 with the ball.
“England were having a look at him but they were saying he probably didn’t generate enough pace,” says Graeme Welch, who has served several stints as Warwickshire bowling coach and is now on secondment with England. “He was very accurate - that’s all he actually did.”
It took until the summer of 2016 - by which point Woakes was 27 - for him to become an established Test performer. Yet, while he has been an automatic selection in one-day international cricket since 2015, Woakes has spent the last four years moving in and out of England’s Test side, resembling those yo-yos Perryman once gave him.
A few weeks ago, when hailing Ben Stokes as ‘Mr Incredible’, Root called Woakes ‘Mr Dependable’. That was partly a reflection of his on-field reliability, partly of his off-pitch dependability. Woakes has a stable family life: he got married in 2017 and became a father the following year - his wife Amie is due again next month. When on tour, Woakes is renowned as the best barista in the squad - he brings a coffee machine around the world with him.
Those who have known him throughout his journey speak of a man whose character has been unchanged by being in England’s inaugural World Cup-winning team. “He’s remained a really humble, friendly bloke - incredibly so,” McCabe says. Calling Woakes a consummate team man has long entered the realm of cliche - but that doesn’t mean that it is not true. When Woakes was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 2017, Ashley Giles, then his Warwickshire coach, said that he had “never” worked with a player “who offered more in terms of attitude, commitment and professionalism. If I could clone anyone I’ve worked with, it would be Chris Woakes”.
Unobtrusively, Woakes has developed into a titan in England. In 22 Tests at home, Woakes now averages 35 with the bat and 22 with the ball - a record that, statistically, betters Stokes, Andrew Flintoff and Ian Botham. On the classic all-rounder’s metric - batting average minus bowling average - Woakes is only bettered by two England all-rounders at home, and even they were predominantly batsmen who offered useful bowling.
Woakes has the ninth-best bowling average of any Englishman to take 50 Test wickets at home - and the best of anyone to play for England since 1965. A Test team in England is simply better with Chris Woakes in it.
If Woakes has been less formidable away - he averages 19 with the bat and 51 with the ball - his improvement in the past year or so suggests a cricketer who can address that record. “Jimmy Anderson taught him the wobble-seam, he’s using inswing, he’s using the crease more so he’s angling the ball in to challenge both edges,” says Welch. “He’s got bigger, he’s got stronger. He’s basically just become, I believe, the complete bowler by trying to improve every day.”
Woakes is not just Mr Dependable. He is Mr Adaptable, too.
When he made his Test debut, he was accused of lacking pace - so Woakes made greater use of his front arm to bowl more forcefully. Woakes has spent his entire county career terrorising batsmen with the new ball; for England’s Test side he has adapted to being first or second change, gaining subtle variations, a potent bouncer and releasing the ball from wider on the crease. Yet in ODIs he still takes the new ball - and took 6-57 across the semi-final and final of the World Cup last year.
After spending his career batting down the order in one-day cricket, Woakes was used as an emergency No 3 in a World Cup match against the West Indies, and calmly hit 40. While he has normally been No 8 in Tests, Woakes has happily been elevated when the needs of the team demand: his two top Test scores - 137 not out against India, and Saturday’s unbeaten 84 - have both come in his five innings batting at No 7.
Woakes has always preferred the path of inconspicuous excellence. But as Woakes raised his arms aloft to celebrate England’s audacious run chase against Pakistan, there was the sense that, seven years into his Test career, he is finally being fully appreciated.