Woakes limbers up for Gabba with six-for

Cricket Australia XI 9 for 249 (Short 51, Woakes 6-54) v England

Chris Woakes doesn’t fit the classic image of a fast bowler.

While the newspapers in Australia are full of stories of his counterparts – brooding, menacing types persuaded to stare down the lens like it just took the last pringle – promising to unleash pace and destruction upon England, Woakes responded to another outstanding performance by saying “it was nice.” And then, after a pause, “and pleasing.”

Make a headline out of that: “It’s nice,” roared Woakes. “It’s pleasing,” bellowed Woakes. “I’m focusing on my processes,” vowed Woakes.

But beneath the bluster, beneath the wearying propaganda that seems to preface Ashes series these days, Woakes is getting on with his job “very nicely” indeed. And while most of the media may be fixated on the damage the Australian fast bowlers are promising to inflict on England and the absence of Ben Stokes, the tourists’ other fast-bowling all-rounder is enjoying the opportunity to warm-up for a confrontation that could go a long way to defining his career. And the result of the series.

Woakes’ performance is vital. If he can replicate his record in England – where he has 42 Test wickets at a cost of 24.28 apiece – he will have given England a potency that will support James Anderson and Stuart Broad and ensure they have a viable attack. If he cannot improve his overseas record – he has currently taken eight Test wickets outside England (and Wales) at a cost of 63.75 apiece – then too much will be required of England’s opening bowlers and it is hard to see how they win.

The key would appear to be movement. If Woakes can persuade the Kookaburra ball (used here) to move laterally as he can the Duke’s (used in England) then his other qualities – his control, his relative pace (upper 80s, you would think) and his bounce – will all be enhanced.

So the good news – from an England perspective – from this tour to date is that he is finding that movement and, as a result, proving a tough proposition. Even on these pudding pitches.

Woakes, for the second time in successive innings, produced a spell that effectively cut the opposition in half. This time it was four – the first four wickets to fall – for 15 in six overs. Later he returned to claim two more. It means he has, at present, claimed 12 first-class wickets on this tour at a cost of just 10.25 apiece. The opposition is about to get much tougher but the pace he is bowling and the movement he is generating are encouraging.

It may be tempting to read some diffidence into Woakes’ softly-spoken manner. To imagine that he will recoil in the furnace of the Gabba.

Tempting but wrong. Instead his quiet manner reflects a confidence in his own ability, which doesn’t require the layer of bravado others see fit to use. He knows it is performances that matter, not rhetoric. And he knows, if he “nails his processes” he will end the tour in a “very nice, very pleasing” mood. What’s that saying about empty vessels and loudest sounds? Talk doesn’t take wickets.

It’s been noticeable in Woakes’ career to date that he has produced some of his most eye-catching performances when his side have been under pressure. How about that 11-wicket haul against Pakistan at Lord’s? England lost. Or that unbeaten 95 in an ODI against Sri Lanka at Trent Bridge? He came in when England were 82 for 6 and chasing 287. Both times, the pressure brought the best out of him.

His wickets here generally came from deliveries on or around off-stump that either bounced or nibbled away. So once Nick Larkin and Josh Carder’s fine opening stand (they put on 66 in 26 overs as England failed to fully utilise the first new ball) was ended with Larkin slashing to gully, Carder and Ryan Gibson were unfortunate enough to receive balls that demanded a stroke and nipped away just enough. Jason Sangha and Simon Milenko were beaten for pace by full deliveries while Harry Nielsen also pushed one to gully.

Broad’s figures, in comparison, were modest. But he bowled fine generally and used this game for the warm-up that it is. He is, in the best sense of the word, something of a show-off. And performing amid the bucolic charm of Riverway Stadium – and a vocal crowd who were never far away from reminding him he remained wicketless for most of the day – was never likely to inspire him.

This is another slow pitch, too. Disappointingly slow. England opted to come here over other options (Drummoyne in Sydney and Hobart were mentioned) as the ground had a reputation for pace that was akin to that expected in Brisbane. Instead, they have something more akin to New Road. Mount Louisa, off in the distance, even did a passable impression of the Malvern Hills. For the third time in succession, they surface they have encountered has been markedly different to that expected in Brisbane.

The England camp are remaining tight-lipped on their view of the preparation they have been provided. But it will be no surprise if, the next time they are here for an Ashes series, they bring a battery of their own seamers (and perhaps hire their own training facility) to ensure they face more taxing bowling. The likes of Mark Footitt, Stuart Meaker, Olly Stone and Richard Gleeson could all have been employed – fitness permitting – to ensure England experienced some pace ahead of the Ashes.

Cricket Australia would have you believe this CA XI represents almost the best opposition available with the Shield in full swing. It’s not entirely true, though. Eddie Cowan, for example, says he would have loved to play this game but, having been offered the opportunity to appear only 48-hours ahead of the Adelaide match, could only promise his availability for the second game. Perhaps, with a bit of planning, the likes of Cameron White and Michael Klinger could have been included, too?

England experienced a few nervous moments during the day, though. The most serious came when Jonny Bairstow had to leave the field after hurting the middle finger of his left hand in scuffing a delivery off the bowling of Woakes that appeared to bounce just in front of him.

While Ben Foakes – permitted to take the gloves by the umpires despite not being named in the XI – is a more than capable deputy with the gloves (and soon had a catch – perhaps the first ‘caught Foakes, bowled Woakes’ of many) – the thought of losing Bairstow from England’s middle-order is enough to keep Joe Root up at night. He will, therefore, have been hugely relieved to see Bairstow reclaim the gloves about 50-minutes later having been diagnosed with nothing more serious that a bruise.

The cordon remains a bit of a concern, though. While James Vince, so fallible in the slips during his first spell in the side, has taken to the gully position with some class – he held three sharp chances on the first day here, none of them easy – another two or three chances went begging in the region. The most straightforward went to Root, off Mason Crane, when Matthew Short had 36, while Bairstow – leaping in front of first slip – put down another (this time off Woakes) to reprieve Milenko. Another edge, again off Crane, went between Bairstow and Root, while Mark Stoneman dropped a tough chance – he did well to get a hand on it, really – when Short cut Crane on 25.

Short took advantage of his reprieves to record a stubborn half-century (from 188 balls with just two boundaries) and ensure the CA XI recovered from the loss of four wickets for 25 runs either side of lunch.

Craig Overton impressed, too. He has settled into this tour nicely and, with his height and ability to generate movement, has demanded respect from the batsmen. He has conceded almost exactly two an over in the first-class games on this tour so far and has given himself an outstanding chance of a Test debut in a week’s time.

There was good news off the pitch for England, too. James Anderson, who missed training on Tuesday due to illness, bowled in the nets, while Jake Ball returned to running for the first time since sustaining strained ankle ligaments in Adelaide and later also enjoyed a gentle bowl.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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