Henry Clark considers if, even in the era of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes might now be England’s best bowler at home.
Being a fast bowler for England in the past decade or so has been a difficult job. The constant comparisons to James Anderson and Stuart Broad, both members of Test cricket’s exclusive 500 club, has set the bar at an almost unsurpassable level for England, with those two also leaving just one spot open for the rest to fight over.
Such was Woakes’ lot for England’s first Test against the West Indies this summer, but he responded to being left out in emphatic fashion, taking 11 wickets in the final two Tests of that series, including a five-wicket haul in the fourth innings of the third Test as the hosts secured a 2-1 comeback win.
The all-rounder was arguably England’s best bowler in the first Test against Pakistan in Manchester too, although his match-winning return to form with the bat to secure one of England’s greatest wins will largely overshadow his work with ball in hand.
‘The Wizard’, as he is nicknamed by his England teammates, rarely lets his country down and has produced some special performances on home soil in recent years. All of which begs the question, is he is currently England’s best on home soil?
We measure Woakes’ stats up against fellow members of England’s seam bowling attack to consider if such a seemingly outrageous claim might hold water.
England’s seam bowler’s records in England
James Anderson: 87 Tests, 374 wickets @ 24.04, economy: 2.85, strike-rate: 50.4
Stuart Broad: 80 Tests, 325 wickets @ 25.8, economy: 3.07, strike-rate: 50.2
Chris Woakes: 22 Tests, 85 wickets @ 22.10, economy: 3.08, strike-rate: 42.9
Jofra Archer: 7 Tests, 29 wickets @ 24.82, economy: 2.89, strike-rate: 51.5
Mark Wood: 10 Tests, 24 wickets @ 44.91, economy: 3.48, strike-rate: 77.2
Sam Curran: 8 Tests, 22 wickets @ 22.63, economy: 3.21, strike-rate: 42.2
The stats show that Woakes’ record in England makes him one of the most fearsome Test bowlers in home conditions. Out of England’s core seam group of six, Woakes has the lowest average in England with a remarkable 22.10. Only Sam Curran, who has played just 8 home Tests, has a better strike-rate (42.2) than the Warwickshire all-rounder’s 42.9. While Broad and Anderson both average a very impressive 25.8 and 24.04 respectively, their strike-rates are both significantly higher, at over 50 balls per wicket, although they have both played more Tests.
In the wickets column, it is no surprise to see Anderson (374) and Broad (325) head and shoulders above the rest with the sheer volume of games they have played. However, Woakes’ 85 wickets on home soil in just 22 Tests is a strong haul made more impressive by the fact he is often in and out of the side owing to England’s depth of seam bowling options.
Woakes is often lauded for his perfect presentation of the seam which allows him to extract both seam from the wicket as well as swing through the air. That 71 of his career dismissals have been caught by one of his England teammates shows how he utilises any movement on offer expertly to threaten batsmen’s edge, and while he doesn’t possess Archer’s express pace, he is no slouch, and certainly quicker than both Broad and Anderson.
Record in England after 22 Tests
Jimmy Anderson: 92 wickets @ 28.35, economy: 3.39, strike-rate: 50.1
Stuart Broad: 78 wickets @ 29.88, economy: 3.23, strike-rate: 55.4
Chris Woakes: 85 wickets @ 22.10, economy: 3.08, strike-rate: 42.9
Woakes has played 22 Tests for England at home so far, and his record far outshines Anderson and Broad at the same stage of their careers. Woakes has taken more wickets than Broad had, although marginally fewer than Anderson, at this stage and also has a markedly lower average and strike-rate than England’s legendary pair.
At 31 years old, Woakes is older than both Anderson and Broad were at this point in their career, and so might be considered in his peak, rather than making his way. Perhaps you’d expect him to have better numbers than two bowlers who, by that stage, were still finding their feet and tinkering with their actions. The flip side is that Woakes has been in and out of the side, having to fight hard to stay in contention while not getting the chance to properly bed in.
From his debut in the 2013 Ashes until the start of the 2016 summer, Woakes played just six Tests for England and averaged 63.75 with the ball. In the last of those, he was pumped for 144 runs in 35.2 overs by South Africa, with just one wicket to show for his efforts. Then 27 years old, Woakes might have thought his days as an international bowler were over.
It was against Pakistan that Woakes came of age as a Test cricketer, taking 11 wickets and scoring 58 runs for once out in a thriller at Lord’s in 2016, and since then, he has outperformed Broad and Anderson at home; in the 18 home Tests in which Woakes has featured since the start of 2016, he averages 19.82 with the ball, less than both Broad and Anderson in those same games.
Perhaps he won’t quite have the legacy of Anderson or Broad but in the here and now Woakes, at home, can be considered just as, if not more, important to this England side than each. His bowling alone should command him a place in this side; his newly reinvigorated batting, after a lean spell, should make him the first name on the team sheet.
There’s obvious hype to be had around the great Anderson and Broad and the express pace of Archer and Wood in England’s bowling attack. But in home Test matches not many bowlers in world cricket, let alone England, can rival Woakes’ potency.