Chris Woakes returns galvanised by IPL stint he would ‘100% recommend’
Chris Woakes returns to England duty emboldened by his time in the Indian Premier League, having relished the pressured environment of the world’s most high-profile Twenty20 league and the expectations that come with being an overseas cricketer.
Woakes has joined his international team-mates for their pre-Champions Trophy training camp in Spain this week after an encouraging IPL debut in which he took 17 group stage wickets for Kolkata Knight Riders, the franchise who paid £500,000 for his services.
Extending his winter travels into May meant the 27-year-old missed the two one‑day internationals against Ireland – as well as a poor start to Warwickshire’s campaign in the County Championship – but he claims to have benefited from bowling to such as MS Dhoni and Glenn Maxwell at the death and has no regrets over the decision.
“It was a great experience,” said Woakes, speaking from England’s base in Almería. “It looks like the best Twenty20 competition in the world and it lived up to expectations. The cricket was of a very high standard, against the world’s best.
“The pressure as an overseas player, where you are expected to perform, is something I will take forward. You see it on TV and think you know what it’s like but until you are in that pressure cooker, you don’t know. I’d 100% recommend it.”
Asked about becoming a favourite of the local support in Kolkata, he replied: “I’m not sure it was Woakes fever. When you first get there you have quite a few commitments with sponsors and a week later you find yourself on billboards. The city goes crazy for the team and turns purple and gold. It’s pretty cool.
“I didn’t feel uncomfortable [missing the start of the English season] but when England are playing it’s a bit strange. The fact Warwickshire aren’t doing well is frustrating for the club but I’m sure they will turn it around. If I’d turned down the IPL I would have had regrets and missed an opportunity that has benefited me.”
Woakes, who believes his enhanced death bowling in particular can transfer to 50-over cricket this summer, would not have foregone two England caps had he not been encouraged to expand his cricketing horizons by Andrew Strauss, the director of England cricket, and the coach, Trevor Bayliss; country, he insisted, will always take priority.
Nevertheless, does he believe the primacy of the international game is under threat? “The be-all and end-all is playing for your country. You never take playing for England for granted but I do think T20 leagues can help your skills. It’s a catch-22 but I’m sure a balance will be struck and 99% of the time international cricket will take precedent.”
With Australia’s cricketers rowing with their board over contracts that would end 20 years of revenue sharing – and even talking of striking during the Ashes in the knowledge domestic tournaments are queuing up for their services – cricket is again at a critical juncture.
The situation in Australia has given rise to talk of England’s players heading for a similar face-off with their employers over greater remuneration given an expected tidal wave of TV money flowing into the game from 2020 onwards.
“It’s not on our radar. We are paid very well and looked after by the ECB and the PCA,” Woakes said. “What lies ahead, lies ahead and we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Australia have got their difficulties and I’ve only caught wind of a little bit. It sounds like the players are standing firm for what they believe in. It’s not something we can worry about.
“If it gets to the stage where the Ashes are under threat, of course it would be a shame for it to not go ahead – it’s the pinnacle for English cricket – but we are concentrating on what comes next.”
For Woakes and his fellow tourists in Spain that immediate challenge is a three-match series with South Africa, the world’s No1 side, starting at Headingley next Wednesday, before the Champions Trophy starts at The Oval on 1 June against Bangladesh. “I’m really excited to have a global tournament in England,” he said. “I can’t wait to get going and produce the goods we’ve been doing for the last two years.”