Woakes stakes Test claims as illness sweeps England camp
While half of England’s bowling attack spent Wednesday battling a bug that has infiltrated the tourists’ camp, Chris Woakes was busy pressing his case for a role in the Boxing Day Test.
On the second of two days against a South African Invitational XI England were denied the services of Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad and Jack Leach, all sent back to the team hotel after after contracting an illness that has also hit the backroom staff.
With the recently arrived Ben Stokes and the recovering Mark Wood also unavailable to take their share with the ball, that meant a seam attack led by the much-missed James Anderson alongside Sam Curran and Woakes.
A stand of 133 for the home side’s third wicket saw a depleted England struggling at one stage, but there was still enough resolve to dismiss the hosts for 289 in the 68th over.
Record wicket-taker Anderson had not played since injuring his calf on the first morning of the Ashes in August but after a rusty start he tuned up with a pleasing second spell of one for seven in five overs. The 37-year-old looked in good enough order to make him a certain pick for Centurion on December 26, barring any fresh setbacks.
The same cannot be said for Curran and Woakes, who may find themselves fighting for one place once Broad and Archer brighten up.
It was Curran who took new-ball duties, finding a hint of early swing as he knocked over both openers, but Woakes who was responsible for the most compelling spell of the match.
Charging in with fresh energy after lunch and a new plan to drag back his length in search of greater bounce, he took three wickets in 11 balls to put England on top.
“It was nice, it was a different role to what I’m used to: coming in and bowling a few bouncers,” Woakes said.
“The wicket wasn’t really responding too much to length balls so at lunchtime we felt we had to change it up a little bit and find different ways to get wickets.
“Thankfully the afternoon session was good for us, we tried a few different things and of course it’s always nice to pick up some wickets in the tour games.”
Woakes admitted the tactic was partially inspired by New Zealand’s Neil Wagner, who impressed in the Black Caps recent series win over England.
The snarling, combative Kiwi and Birmingham’s candidate for nicest man in cricket do not share much in common, but Wagner’s reliance on the bumper clearly left an impression.
“Trying to hit a length isn’t always the best option and looking at different opportunities to take wickets is important,” said Woakes.
“We’ve seen the way New Zealand in particular go about their business. Neil Wagner in particular uses the middle of the pitch a lot and he’s gone pretty well with it.
“We just have to think outside the box because the way you pick up wickets in England isn’t always the way you pick up wickets abroad.”
Uncapped Lancashire spinner Matt Parkinson, handed a key role by Leach’s illness, saw his own hopes of seeing action against the Proteas plummet. He was milked for 112 in 20 unconvincing overs and was largely outbowled by Joe Root.
The 23-year-old will be a prime candidate to work with Jeetan Patel, who begins work as spin bowling consultant for the tour next week.
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