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Over the last four years, England’s batsmen have been stealing the limelight in ODI cricket. There is absolutely no doubt that they have been the best ODI side in world cricket recently, but their reputation has been built on the back of their batting attack.
In this World Cup, however, the attention managed to shift when the pace aces Jofra Archer and Mark Wood were cranking it up and competing for the fastest ball of the tournament. While the duo were much spoken about, there was little mention of a certain Chris Woakes. The Warwickshire all-rounder had been quietly doing his job, just as he had been consistently for England over the last few years in white-ball cricket.
However, he had his moment of fame and it came in one of the biggest games of the tournament, the big semi-final. Given the firepower and the form, England were always going to make it to the top four. Yes, for a brief period, things looked shaky but they were always bound to make it into the semi-finals. But the pressure intensified at Edgbaston. It was a matter of one bad phase and they would find themselves out of the tournament, just like India.
Australia dominated England in the group stages and always have in World Cups. They also did in the league game at Lord’s earlier, which was held in bowler-friendly conditions. However, England failed to make the most of it. Woakes was at the forefront of it all. Despite bowling well, he couldn’t pick early wickets and it hurt England badly in that game. He did pick up a couple of wickets at the back end, however, finishing with 2/46, but it was too little too late.
Since that game, Woakes picked up three wickets in two games as England won both their must-win games to march into the top four. They were up against Australia again. Aaron Finch won the toss and had no hesitation in batting first. After all, teams batting first had been dominating the edition.
England had built their way into the semi-finals by the same approach, bat first and bat big. However, after losing the toss, the template changed and so did their plans. They needed their new ball bowlers to stand up and deliver - and that is exactly what they did.
Woakes dished out a half-volley off the very first ball of the game. It wasn’t the best of starts for Woakes and England. However, Archer turned it into a good one as he caught Aussie skipper Finch plumb in front and sent him back for a golden duck.
Woakes gave away another boundary in his second over and it felt like the roles had reversed from Lord’s. In that game, it was Woakes who kept asking questions while Archer kept dishing out boundary balls. However, the tide turned and Woakes found some nip and extra bounce from the surface soon. That induced the edge from Warner, and Woakes entered the wickets column.
He put an end to Peter Handscomb’s misery at the crease when the latter was knocked over for a 12-ball 4. After those two boundaries, Woakes gave away just 8 runs in the rest of his first spell. He ended his first spell with figures of 2/16 from six overs.
Alongside Archer, Woakes literally ripped apart the Aussie top-order and put the pressure back on the defending champions. They had learnt from their mistakes at Lord's and corrected them brilliantly in this semi-final. Woakes was getting a little bit of nip off the surface and he showed how lethal he could be.
He wasn’t done though. The 30-year-old all-rounder might have bowled just two overs in his second and final spell but he produced a decisive blow even in those 12 deliveries. Woakes conceded just four runs and picked up the wicket of Mitchell Starc who was swinging hard and had raced off to a quickfire 29.
Playing at his home ground (Edgbaston), Woakes produced one of his best ODI performances as he finished with figures of 3/20.
Remember, he is the third highest wicket-taker (92 wickets) for England since the last World Cup. There have been quite a few pacers juggled around but not Woakes. He has barely moved from his position. Time and again, the pace bowling all-rounder has produced some excellent spells and is turning out to be an unsung hero for the hosts. Archer and Wood have dominated England’s bowling charts but Woakes has quietly and decently supported them.
Though he had only 10 wickets from nine games before the semis, the bowler refused to wilt under pressure and raised his hand up when it mattered the most. That spell first upfront set the tone as he kept England’s World Cup dream alive.