A year ago today, Chris Woakes would have laughed if somebody had suggested to him that, 365 days on, he would wake up in London ready to play in the traditional English cricket season curtain-raiser at Lord’s.
On April 9, 2008, Woakes was a 19-year-old seam-bowling all-rounder full of potential but with just one first-class appearance for Warwickshire behind him.
But so speedily and impressively did he get on with translating that potential into achievement that within two months he was one of the first names down on the Bears’ team-sheet.
Woakes ended last season as Warwickshire’s top wicket-taker in the Championship with 42 at 20.57 apiece – and the England selectors took note. He spent part of the winter in Florida working on fitness and conditioning with a group of the country’s most promising seamers.
His ascent continues apace. Earlier this week Woakes was, remarkably, included in England’s provisional squad of 30 for the Twenty20 World Cup in June.
And today he will play at Lord’s in a strong MCC team, skippered by Rob Key and including Michael Vaughan, Ian Bell and Worcestershire pair Stephen Moore and Kabir Ali, in the curtain-raiser against county champions Durham.
A product of Walmley CC and the Warwickshire academy, Woakes has travelled far in a short time. Just how far dawned on him fully yesterday when he visited Lord’s for the very first time – on the eve of playing on its hallowed turf.
But amongst the most impressive facets of this talented young player’s make-up is a grounded and rock-solid temperament. The youngster has take his rapid advances in his stride (Bears coach Allan Donald loves Woakes’ hunger for advice and his quiet determination to make himself the best he can possibly be) and excelled in the face of every challenge put before him so far. Yet it is impossible to imagine him keeping anything other than a level head.
“I have never even been to Lord’s before, never mind played there,” Woakes said. “So it is a bit of a daunting prospect.
“To play alongside players of this calibre sounds a bit nerve-racking. But when you get out on the field those sort of things always fade away and you just concentrate on the job in hand.
“It was a big help to travel down to London the day before the game and go to the ground to get a look at Lord’s and a bit of a feel for the place. To go down on the day of the game and go straight out to play would be quite a lot to handle.
“It is a very exciting prospect. Last year when Warwickshire played away to Middlesex they were at Uxbridge, not Lord’s, but to be honest when the fixtures came out I didn’t take that much notice because I didn’t expect to be playing in the first team. Then later on I thought it was a bit of a shame but the way things worked out wasn’t so bad because I took a few wickets at Uxbridge.”
Match figures of seven for 68, to be precise, to bowl Warwickshire to victory. And most eyes will be on Woakes’ bowling skills during the next four days, understandably enough as last season he bowled with a control, variation and intelligence which are the raw materials of a very fine bowler indeed.
But he also has the makings of a proficient all-rounder. Woakes’ batting skills have yet to properly surface in first-team cricket for Warwickshire but he has a decent technique and can strike the ball cleanly – and a long way.
“I probably work on my batting as hard as on my bowling, if not harder,” he said. “Gradually I am getting better but it is a case of getting experience. I haven’t batted that much for the first team.
“I got 45 against Derbyshire last season so I know I can do it, it’s just a matter of doing it consistently. I batted at seven a couple of times last year and didn’t feel uncomfortable and feel I can do a job there. I probably haven’t scored as many runs as I should have over the years and am working hard on that.”