Chris Woakes: I turned down IPL – now I’m Ashes player of the series

Chris Woakes of England celebrates the wicket of Mitchell Starc of Australia during Day Five

Chris Woakes was named player of the series despite playing only three Ashes Tests this summer – Getty Images /Stu Forster

At the start of this summer, Chris Woakes ditched the IPL in the hope of saving his Test career, only for England to find reasons to leave him out of the first three matches, which happened to take place on his favourite grounds.

Before the first of those three, against Ireland, he gave a press conference in the belief that he had been selected, only to learn he had been overlooked. When he was left out of the first two Ashes matches, it seemed increasingly likely that a dire tour of the West Indies last March would be the unfortunate full stop on his Test career.

But by the last day of July, he had become the first Compton-Miller Medallist to play as few as three matches, having defied a mid-series quad tear to finish with 19 wickets at an average of 18. A decade after his debut, Woakes stamped his authority on an Ashes series for the first time, adding to a stunning CV that includes World Cup winners medals in ODIs and T20s.

Finally, at 34, an unsung hero had his moment in the sun in Test cricket. But, in trademark style, eyes were elsewhere, with Stuart Broad’s extraordinary farewell to cricket dominating the agenda. Indeed, England had only turned to him – not for the first time – when they had to; an injury to their No 3, Ollie Pope, opened up his spot, shoring up the batting and offsetting Ben Stokes’s lack of overs.

‘You don’t always get what you want and what you’re kind of destined for’

A few weeks later, his relentless accuracy and movement through the air and off the seam made him so indispensable that he played through a “tiny” – grade one – quad tear at the Oval.

Chris Woakes of England celebrates the wicket of Steve Smith of Australia during Day Five of the LV= Insurance Ashes 5th Test Match between England and Australia at The Kia Oval

Woakes ended the Ashes series with 19 wickets at 18 – Getty Images/Stu Forster

“I bowled the day before and didn’t feel it,” he said. “The day before that I was feeling it. I felt it in over 10 and I was a bit worried because, it was the first innings and I thought, ‘oh, no, it could be going’ but then I ended up bowling 25 in the first innings and it disappeared. I’ve had the physio on it all week. To get through made it all worthwhile.”

That last line is true not just of the injury. Woakes could scarcely believe the position he was in, after a “whirlwind three weeks”. Even when he was recalled in Leeds, he was “worried”, because his three early season County Championship games for Warwickshire – hard yards rather than IPL glamour – were weeks earlier, and Stokes had him bowling up the hill at Headingley, which Woakes “hates”, to accommodate more glamorous bowlers at the other end.

“You don’t always get what you want and what you’re kind of destined for,” he said. “But I turned down the opportunity to go to the IPL for a number of reasons, one being the opportunity to potential be a part of this series. At no point did I think I’d be stood here.”

After the West Indies tour last year, it seemed even less likely, not least because he came home with a knee injury so severe surgery was required. It has been said that James Anderson’s and Stuart Broad’s careers were saved by being spared bowling on dead pitches in Antigua and Barbados; replacing them, Woakes toiled so hard that it nearly ended his.

Woakes said he could “not at all” manage being man of the series after that West Indies tour. “The way my knee felt, I wasn’t sure if I was going to play cricket again. If I could be at the end of that tour again… at no point did I think I’ll be stood here now with with what I’ve achieved. So yeah, it’s pretty incredible to think about.”

‘I’m just proud of myself to be able to keep going’

Now, Woakes can have confidence, even in his mid-thirties, that an Indian summer awaits in his career. Not necessarily actually going to India in January, which he remains coy about, given his poor overseas record. But, with Broad gone and James Anderson now 41, Woakes could finally spend a spell as England’s attack leader at home. He has played just 48 of the 127 Tests in the decade since his debut, but only injury could rob him of a half-century now.

“This is right up there in terms of Test cricket moments for me,” he said. “I’m just proud of myself to be able to keep going. The resilience you have to show to play at this level, and keep turning up day in, day out when the body’s sore and the mind is tired. The guys are cooked. This schedule is gruelling and when you’ve got such a tight series, which means so much to so many people, you want to obviously be on it every single second of the day. Test cricket brings nothing like any other sport, it really is gruelling. It’s quite fitting to be where I was where I made my debut 10 years ago.

“I want to play for England for as long as possible. Playing international cricket is the pinnacle. You want to be a part of days like today. You don’t get it any anywhere else.”

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