May 16, 2017

'In T20, regardless of where you're playing, you need to use variations well'

Chris Woakes talks about his approach, what he has gained from the IPL, and how he wants to develop his game

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This year has been special for you, hasn't it - you got married, were one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year, were bought at the IPL for a good price?
So far, so good. Touch wood, 2017 has been pretty good so far, but you never look too far ahead in cricket, do you?

When you decided on Rs 2 crore (approximately US$307,000) as your base price, were you confident franchises would pick you?
With international cricket, the schedules are very hectic. The summer we have got coming up is very, very busy. So this period during the IPL was actually a good time to rest up and take time away from 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.

Were you following the auction?
I was not following it live. I woke up at about 6.30am, by when it had started. I flicked through Twitter and had seen that Ben [Stokes] and Tymal [Mills] had gone for a hell of a lot of money. I couldn't see my name anywhere, so I did not know whether I had been through the auction or whether I went unsold. I went to make a cup of coffee and by the time I came back to check my phone, I had a notification from the IPL Twitter feed saying that I had been sold to KKR. I enjoy my coffee usually and it was extra nice that morning.

What did you think were your strengths that made you an attractive offer to a franchise?
The fact that I'm an allrounder, and in T20 cricket an allrounder balances the team well. I suppose that is what the franchise was after, having lost Andre Russell for this year. So I suppose they were looking to fill his shoes to a certain extent, and maybe I could fill part of that role.

"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"

Did you really look at yourself as a like-for-like replacement for Russell?
It is tough, considering I had not played an IPL game. Andre is one of the best T20 cricketers in the world. He has good T20 and IPL experience behind him as well. So to fill his shoes completely isn't really what I was coming here to do. I knew I could do a really good job with the ball and make some useful runs with the bat. I haven't really had a chance to show my true qualities with the bat, but I would like to think I have done a reasonable thing with the ball.

There have been a few good ones, particularly the RCB game at home when we bowled them out for 49. It is something the whole team and the franchise will remember for a long, long time - to bowl out a team like RCB for that sort of a number is almost unheard of in T20 cricket. We broke a lot of records that day. It was a good personal performance from myself: I took three wickets. Got Chris Gayle out, which obviously was a good wicket for them. Eden Gardens was very, very loud.

What is the major difference that you have felt between the T20 Blast and the IPL, other than the crowds?
With four overseas players allowed, the IPL has a lot more international players. You also have the Indian internationals, so you are coming up against very strong teams regardless of who you are playing. In England you are only allowed two overseas players, and there are 18 counties, so [talent] is a bit more stretched out across the board. Here it is very much concentrated: it is eight teams, you have world-class players playing in front of 60,000 people at a ground like Eden Gardens, in conditions and the heat, which we are not used to as England players.

What about the level of the game?
It is a very, very hard, high standard here in the IPL. There is a lot of pressure on you as an international player to perform because there is always someone on the sidelines trying to take your position. The T20 Blast is a very good tournament, but the quality of the IPL, I believe, makes it the best T20 tournament in the world.

"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" © PA Photos

Is there any element from the IPL you might want to take back home?
It is tricky, because you want to still be able to develop homegrown players. The fact that the IPL is a franchise tournament, which we don't have yet in England. I know they are looking at creating that possibly down the line - I think that would develop T20 skills across the board. In general, the fact that you have four overseas players allows the quality of the teams to be little bit stronger. But, as I said, you are still creating homegrown players, which India have done, which the IPL has been very good for.

Can you talk about a pressure moment you faced as a bowler in the tournament?
In every game. As a bowler you have to bowl important overs, like two at the death when you have someone like Glenn Maxwell or MS Dhoni batting at the other end. You have to make sure you are on the money and you execute your skills very well. If you don't, you get found out. You are always under pressure.

You have a slightly high economy rate of almost nine, but you are the leading wicket-taker for the Knight Riders.
It is rough with the smooth in T20 cricket. You just have to have the mindset of always trying to take wickets. If you speak to the coaches and captains, they are happy for you to go for the occasional boundary as long as you are picking up wickets. That is what really wins you games, making sure you take plenty of wickets. It can help you towards the back end if you have got a team six or seven down - then you are bowling to the tail rather than an MS Dhoni or a Ben Stokes or a Jos Buttler. I would like my economy closer to eight than nine, but as the tournament has gone on, I have improved.

"It is a very, very hard high standard here in the IPL. There is a lot of pressure on you as an international player to perform because there is always someone on the sidelines trying to take your position"

You have not got the batting time you might have desired. It must have been difficult then to come out in a crunch situation, like you did against Kings XI Punjab, where KKR needed 29 off 11?
As a batsman going into such a position, you have nothing to lose, really. All the pressure is on the bowling side, because you shouldn't lose from that position. As a batsman, you have no choice but to try and get boundaries when you need 20 off six balls. Realistically you should win, but they bowled very well towards the back end and we could not close it out.

Was it possibly instructive for you as a bowler, watching Mohit Sharma bowl the knuckleball and the slower balls?
Yes, definitely. A lot of the guys are bowling the knuckleball; it is almost like the flavour of the month. Some guys execute it better than others. Mohit bowled it very well the other night. He bowled some good dot balls. The more variations you have towards the back end of the innings, and particularly if you can execute them well, [the better]. Just because you have the knuckleball doesn't mean you are not going to go for runs. You still need to bowl it well, bowl it on the right length, on the right line, to the specific batsman. You have to bowl it where you want to bowl it and also disguise it well.

Do you bowl the knuckleball?
I am practising it at the minute. I don't feel comfortable enough to bowl it in a game yet. You have to commit to it 100% and know where it is going to go.

What have you learned in the time you have been bowling in India, starting from the India series and then the IPL?
Indian conditions are generally not bowler-friendly: small grounds, fast outfields, good, flat, batting pitches.

Almost every wicket we have played on has been slightly different. On some surfaces you can bowl seam up and it offers a little bit. You certainly have to smash [the ball into] the wicket and use your cross-seamers and the slower ball, etc. The one thing you need to do in T20 cricket, regardless of where in the world you are playing is to use variations very well.

"I bat at No. 8 in the Test team. I have got a couple of fifties and scored some valuable runs, but I would like to go on and score hundreds for England" © PA Photos

Do you also need to have a good mindset?
Very true. Your mindset has to be always taking the positive option. You always have to take the batsman out. Sometimes in T20 cricket you get into a mode of trying to stop runs, which is good to a certain extent, particularly if you are defending a total. But sometimes, particularly when you are bowling first, you need to take wickets, you always have to try and find a way of getting the batsman out. That is the best mindset to have. The good thing about batsmen coming at you quite hard is, you always have a chance to take a wicket.

You showed a strong mindset in the third ODI of the India series, played at Eden Gardens, when you denied India a victory. India needed 16 runs off the final over and Kedar Jadhav hit your first two balls for a six and a four. Can you talk about that over?
It was a really good moment for us to finish that series on a high, because we were 2-0 down and Kolkata was the last game. Defending 16 off the last over, as a bowler you are expected to close that game out. When your first two balls go for ten runs, all of a sudden you are under pressure and the batting side are looking like they are going to win. Your mindset was to try and almost think the game was gone. The batsman was under pressure to finish it off, and I just tried to execute my skill. I managed to get a couple of dot balls, then got Jadhav caught on the rope and then defended the last ball. A big moment to close out a game that I thought had gone.

That third ball was the most vital. What was the plan?
I had to change the plan because I was trying to go for my yorker and did not quite nail it [in the first two deliveries]. I decided to change the plan, decided to change the field and then try and hit the good length. I managed to do that and got the dot ball. All of a sudden, you get a little more confident. And then the next ball, I actually decided to bluff the batsman because I thought he was going to think I would bowl the same one. Decided to bowl a wide yorker, executed well. It was a dot ball. Tried the same the next ball - he hits it out to [deep] cover and gets out. The mindset was just to try and somehow find some dots or get a wicket.

Sometimes Plan A does not always work. Eoin Morgan, the captain, was very good. He said, "Look, we are going to have to change the plan. What do you think we should do?" So we came up with Plan B, which seemed to work well.

"The one thing you need to do in T20 cricket, regardless of where in the world you are playing, is to use variations very well"

Do you reckon playing in the IPL will help your ODI game?
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. And it is almost just an extended version of T20. So clearly it will keep me in good stead going into an ODI tournament.

Looking at the near future, are you looking forward to the Ashes?
It is so far ahead. Still six months away at least. There is a lot of cricket to be played still, so fingers crossed I can perform well this English summer and make sure that I am on the plane to Australia.

What are the improvements you want to carry out going into the Test series against South Africa?
I have had a good 12 months in Test cricket. I have had a good run in the team. Ideally it would be nice to continue that form. I would like to keep contributing with the bat. I bat at No. 8 in the Test team. I have got a couple of fifties and scored some valuable runs, but I would like to go on and score hundreds for England. That would be one of my aims. I aim to continue to bowl well. I took some good wickets in the summer. Hopefully I can take that form forward into the English summer. And if you play well in the English summer, you are on an Ashes trip, where you just want to perform well.

Trevor Bayliss said that there was mild concern initially about whether players featuring in the IPL would be affected going to play South Africa and the Champions Trophy. What do you feel? Are you exhausted?
No, I don't think so. That is what we had to weigh up before coming here: either take an off or come and have this experience. You don't know if these opportunities are going to come around ever again. 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.

Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Peter on May 25, 2017, 11:40 GMT

    @Mirandola

    Never near a Test Cricketer? He had the best bowling average of any English test bowler including Anderson and Broad so he is every bit a quality test bowler.

    I wouldn't say he is genuine all-rounder but he is a very good bowler who is capable with the bat. His batting average is better that Moeen Ali's put it that way and most people would say Moeen is a better batsman than bowler.

  • Robert on May 18, 2017, 1:14 GMT

    Woakes has certainly grown as a short-form cricketer over the last year; he's always been a 'bits-and-pieces' player, whatever he might like to think of himself - never near a genuine all-rounder, and never anywhere near a Test cricketer. He's making money he never could have expected, and good luck to him, but all the IPL hype in the world won't make him into a Test cricketer.

  • Alex on May 17, 2017, 13:57 GMT

    I would have asked him whether he'd rather be at the England ODI training camp or playing the last few games of the IPL, particularly as his team might make the final. I'm all for prioritising international cricket but the scheduling I think is unfortunate here. Surely they could make a little break for the last games of the IPL to make sure the best players can play it. As an England fan it's been great to see the international players smash up the IPL and I'd actually rather they continue to do so in the final than contest a couple of ODIs. Plenty of ODIs later in the year.

  • Richard on May 17, 2017, 7:23 GMT

    Shouldn't Woakes, Stokes, Buttler and one or two others be playing for their counties where their fans can see them in action ? IPL matches are nothing more than glorified exhibition matches.

  • sahir on May 17, 2017, 6:21 GMT

    IPL must think of getting the ropes little bigger. You simply can't have a 65M six, its a mockery of bowling and sixes. You must hit atleast 75M for a six whether the ball goes to third man or fine leg or square boundaries. As a fan, we don't want to 180+ runs every match, we would be happy to see teams defending 140+ scores than chasing 180+ runs

  • Pranay on May 17, 2017, 3:02 GMT

    He made coffee, really? What happened to the British tradition of tea?

  •   Venkatesh Venkatesh on May 16, 2017, 15:55 GMT

    That is the sprit is required by every body transform talent to action for better prospects

  • ravish0415759 on May 16, 2017, 14:05 GMT

    Chris Woakes not only in the team for bowling and know for their variation but he also contribute with their bat. I remembered when Sri Lanka tour England where Woakes played brilliant innings while chasing the target. Currently, Woakes is playing IPL It's 20 overs game where bowling has nothing to do but he bowling well picking wickets against world top batsman. Woakes also select in England National Team for Champions Trophy 2017 where he has home advantage.

  • Sanjay on May 16, 2017, 11:51 GMT

    A sensible lad with his feet on the ground. Under-rated but not for long given his season by season improvements. Don't forget that last over he bowled against MSD in a T20 game against India @Edgbaston, I think it was 2014. He was very raw then, mostly a county bowler feeling his way into the England team. He denied MSD in a similar fashion to the over bowled against Jhadav.

    We saw his ODI inns against SL which is some kind of a record for someone batting so far down the order. But it's in Tests where he had such a good 12 months, esp against SL. Last 12 months have been great for him.

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