Chris Woakes insists he’ll be fit and ready to resume his international duties for England against South Africa next week, despite coming off the back of a draining – but ultimately successful – maiden stint in the IPL with Kolkata Knight Riders.
Woakes is linking up with the rest of the England squad at a training camp in Spain ahead of next week’s three ODIs against South Africa, where he and his fellow IPL returnees, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, are expected to be spared some of the more intense physical training drills, as England’s coach, Trevor Bayliss, steps up the team’s preparations ahead of the Champions Trophy.
And despite the change of format from 20 overs to 50, Woakes – who is KKR’s leading wicket-taker this year with 17 wickets in 13 appearances, including a best of 3 for 6 in a memorable victory over Royal Challengers Bangalore in April – is adamant that the opportunity to immerse himself in the tournament more than outweighed the risk of starting the English season with fatigue.
“That is what we had to weigh up before coming here,” Woakes told ESPNcricinfo ahead of his departure. “Either take time off or come and have this experience. You don’t know if these opportunities are going to come around ever again. It might be a one-off for myself. You just never know.
“So I did not feel like it was an opportunity that I could turn down. My body feels pretty good. As a fast bowler, you are always hurting somewhere. You always have to look after parts of your body. I’m no different. I feel good. I feel fine going back to England and hopefully playing a key part for England this summer.”
Woakes’ IPL stint has nevertheless been the culmination of a remarkable 12 months for a player who has become an integral part of England’s plans in both white- and red-ball cricket this summer. And his new-found worth as an allround cricketer was reflected in the price that KKR were willing to pay for him in the IPL auction in February. Having set a base price of INR 2 crore (approx. £240,000) he was eventually signed for twice that amount.
That initial valuation, Woakes admitted, had largely been a means to ensure that he did not sacrifice his valuable down-time lightly. “With international cricket, the schedules are very hectic,” he said. “The summer we have got coming up is very, very busy. So this period during the IPL was actually was a good time to rest up and take time away from the game.
“I had to weigh that up: either come to the IPL or take the time off. So I had put myself at a high price for it to be really worthwhile coming here. I didn’t expect to even get picked up. The fact that I did was quite a shock.”
Woakes confirmed that he had not been in touch with the England management since the start of the tournament, although he had picked Bayliss’s brains before he left, given that the England coach was a two-times IPL winner during his stint with KKR in 2012 and 2014.
“He only had good things to say about it,” he said. “He was very keen for us to go and experience it and come out here and try and develop our game. It is good that both Trevor and [Andrew] Strauss are backing us.
“It is hard to beat that. It has lived up to every expectation. When you look back home and watch the games on television, you know that they are high-profile games, there is a lot of pressure on you as a player. You are under huge pressure as a player to perform, and it is good to be put in those positions.”
And, going into the Champions Trophy next month, Woakes is sure that the lessons he’s learned in the heat of the IPL battle will stand him in good stead as England pursue their maiden 50-over global title.
“T20 cricket is a good experience to have behind you going into an ODI tournament because you still have to bowl death overs in ODI cricket,” he said. “And it is almost just an extended version of T20. So clearly it would keep me in good stead going into an ODI tournament.”
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