“You’re riding high in April, shot down in May,” sang Frank Sinatra on That’s Life.
The months may have changed and the gap between them slightly extended for England seam bowler Chris Woakes, but the sentiment remains the same. He was soaring, now he isn’t.
In July, Woakes was named Player of The Ashes after taking 19 wickets in three Tests to help his side fight back from 2-0 down against Australia to draw the series 2-2.
But fast forward to October and the 34-year-old’s place in the ODI side looks in jeopardy after recording combined figures of 2-135 from 18 overs in his first three World Cup games.
Woakes is going at 7.50 runs an over. He has bowled 11 overs in the powerplay and taken 1-95.
He has been such a brilliant bowler for a very long period of time so you keep backing that. He has probably not performed as he would like at the start of this tournament but you keep backing class players.
The man nicknamed ‘The Wizard’ appears to have lost control of his spells. In The Ashes, he looked like striking every ball. In the World Cup, every ball looks like being struck to or over the boundary.
That has left England with a big decision to make ahead of Saturday’s clash with South Africa in Mumbai – a match that is now must-win after damaging defeats to New Zealand and Afghanistan sandwiched a sole success against Bangladesh.
England skipper Jos Buttler said he will continue to back “class” Woakes, a man with 165 wickets in 117 ODIs and who played an instrumental role in the 2019 World Cup triumph on home soil.
However, his form is a real concern with three teams in a row now collaring the experienced pace bowler: Woakes taken for 0-45 from six overs by New Zealand; 2-49 from eight against Bangladesh and then an eye-watering 0-41 from just four versus Afghanistan.
Woakes gets Gurbaz-balled in expensive outing against Afghanistan
The tone was set against Afghanistan in the opening seconds as Woakes slung the first delivery of the game down the leg-side for five wides, the ball nutmegging Buttler on its way to the rope.
Woakes returned figures of 0-31 from three overs during the first powerplay, with short balls thumped to the fence in his second over and attempted slower deliveries dispatched in his third.
Afghanistan opener Rahmanullah Gurbaz smoked three of the four boundaries Woakes conceded, including a maximum over midwicket. The England man Gurbaz-balled, if you will.
Woakes was hooked from the attack thereafter, before returning to bowl the 25th over – one that went for 10 as Azmatullah Omarzai cracked full balls in the slot for six and four respectively.
Woakes was not seen again – and now the question is whether he will be seen against South Africa at the weekend.
The Proteas’ power-packed batting line-up, one that crunched 428 against Sri Lanka earlier in the tournament, will probably be licking their lips at the prospect of coming up against him.
“No one needs to tell Woakes he is not at his best at the minute but I really believe in him and I would give him another game,” England Women fast bowler Kate Cross told Sky Sports on Monday.
“He is one of the best we have got and when he is on he really does change games, especially with the new ball. We have seen how good and clinical he can be, swinging the ball.
“If England are to win this tournament they need him firing. David Willey and Gus Atkinson are on the bench but that is a lot less experience to bring in. I know Buttler will have full faith in him.”
What is wrong with Woakes?
Former New Zealand fast bowler Simon Doull: “Woakes is usually so metronomic, bowls that line and length you are worried about time and time again [as a batter] but I haven’t seen that.
“I have seen him trying too many things. The knuckleball, the slower ball, almost overtrying. Get in the nets, the basics, that line and length he knows he does so well and relax a little bit.
“I can see he is trying too hard in his body language. I also know he is not a great traveller and that is an issue in this tournament, going from venue to venue.”
Former Australia all-rounder Shane Watson: “Woakes’ slower ball just keeps drifting too full. He is not ripping down the side of the ball and it is just floating out. When he gets things slightly wrong, the ball slides onto the bat beautifully. His execution is off with that cutter.”
What are England’s options?
Seam-bowling-wise, David Willey or Gus Atkinson could come into the XI in place of Woakes.
Willey would be a more direct replacement, offering swing with the new ball and then ballast down the order with the bat. Atkinson is an inferior batter but a much faster bowler, the nearest England have in the squad to first-choice speedster Mark Wood.
Off-spinning all-rounder Moeen Ali is an option as well should England find themselves on a turning wicket, while Buttler will need to find a space for Ben Stokes when the Test skipper is fully over the hip niggle that has sidelined him from the first three games.
Stokes for Woakes seems an unlikely switch, though, with the former not bowling in this tournament as he manages his knee problem.
When Stokes is fit, fellow middle-order man Harry Brook seems most at risk, despite top-scoring with 66 in an otherwise abject batting display from England against Afghanistan.
‘England have made things very hard for themselves’
England’s hopes of successfully defending their World Cup title have been dealt a massive blow with the nine-wicket defeat to New Zealand and 69-run loss to Afghanistan.
Buttler’s side still have some heavyweights to face, in South Africa, India, Australia and Pakistan, alongside two of the perceived weaker outfits in Sri Lanka and Netherlands.
England lost three group games in 2019 and still went on to make the knockout stages so they are by no means out of contention but those beatings four years ago, to Sri Lanka, Australia and Pakistan, were narrow and did not wreck their net run-rate.
This time around the heaviness of their defeats has left them with little room for further error.
England World Cup fixtures
- October 5 – Lost to New Zealand by nine wickets
- October 10 – Beat Bangladesh by 137 runs
- October 15 – Lost to Afghanistan by 69 runs
- October 21 – South Africa (Mumbai)
- October 26 – Sri Lanka (Bangalore)
- October 29 – India (Lucknow)
- November 4 – Australia (Ahmedabad)
- November 8 – Netherlands (Pune)
- November 11 – Pakistan (Kolkata)
Sky Sports Cricket’s Michael Atherton said: “England haven’t bowled well enough and teams have got off to fliers against them.
“There are reasons. Many of the players are undercooked in terms of cricketing time, time in ODIs. But they have not hit the ground running and have made things very difficult for themselves now.”
Cross added: “England are not playing their best cricket, which is the worrying thing but they have six games to turn that around and tournament cricket is about momentum. They still have a chance.
“For me it’s about mindset.
“They need to recreate that feeling from 2019 of ‘no-one can beat this team’ albeit in different and really challenging conditions. They are not far away, they just need to tighten up in certain areas.”
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