Chris Woakes is an unlikely candidate to lead the way in England’s attempts at mental disintegration in the build-up to the Ashes but, in his own well-mannered Brummie fashion, he has pointed up one or two Australian weaknesses less than a month out from the first Test.
England were beaten 5-0 on their last Ashes tour – a trip Woakes missed despite making his Test debut against Australia at the end of the 2013 summer – and from the moment they set down in Perth on Sunday, they will have to start dealing with the heat (in every sense). For some, the fact England are preparing to be without Ben Stokes, recent revelations notwithstanding, means their hopes are doomed from the start.
Stokes’ absence would certainly weaken England’s batting, with Australia likely to field an intimidating and varied pace attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins – though it could have been even more fearsome, had James Pattinson not succumbed to another back injury. England will rely more on skill than speed, with James Anderson and Stuart Broad bringing experience and nous in place of clicks. In the absence of Stokes and Mark Wood, Woakes’ ability to hit the high 80s mph may make him the quickest tourist.
While England were blown away in 2013-14, Woakes suggested this series would be more competitive, noting that Cummins has yet to play a home Test, as well as the chequered injury records of Australia’s frontline trio. He also highlighted the ongoing debate over who will keep wicket, with Alex Carey and Peter Nevill vying to displace Matthew Wade.
“The Australian bowlers have got some pace, [but] Pat Cummins hasn’t played much Test cricket in Australia, so it will be as much of a test for him as for me,” Woakes said. “They’ve probably got more pace than us but in Broad, Anderson we’ve got two of England’s best ever bowlers, and along with myself and some of the other bowlers I think we have got enough to cause them problems.
“I don’t think they’ve got a huge amount of back-up bowlers apart from those three, guys who have got records of injury – if they break down during the series, what have they got coming through after that? They’re also missing a keeper-batsman at the minute, they’re short in that area, which is obviously quite a crucial position in every team.”
With Australia’s season now well underway and England set to begin their tour with a two-day match against Western Australia next weekend, the verbal skirmishes are only likely to increase. David Warner has come in for some criticism after likening the Ashes to a “war” in which he would try to summon up his “hatred” for England, but Woakes was understanding of the emotions at play.
“The words he used might have been a bit extreme but look, it’s Ashes cricket, you know it’s going to be intense, it’s two teams coming up against each other who are desperate to win. When you go to Australia you are taking on the nation, not just the team. They’ll feel the pressure of that as well, so you can understand maybe why he’s saying that. But at the same time it’s two teams battling hard against each other to win the Ashes so you’d expect nothing else. I’m sure it will be intense on the field and a few things said.
“It’s exciting, looking forward to it. I never find trouble getting into the battle, everyone does it in their own way. Warner might want to chirp, others do it their own way. You have to find out what’s best for you, it might distract you from the day job. Each to their own, David can do what he wants and we will react and try to play our best cricket.”
Woakes may have missed selection for the last Ashes tour – Boyd Rankin and Chris Tremlett were preferred as England opted for height over trousers – but he has plenty of experience in Australia, having made his white-ball debuts there in 2010-11, as well as playing in the Big Bash League and the 2015 World Cup.