11th July 2019

Woakes shows just why he’s England’s ‘Mr Perfect’

What was that they said about nice guys coming last? Because Warwickshire's Chris Woakes conclusively disproves the age-old theory.

You’d struggle to find someone with a bad word to say about the England seamer, approachable, humble and the sort of player who’d probably mutter an embarrassed apology as he sent your middle stumping cartwheeling towards the boundary.

Woakes will give you ten overs of good honest sweat and toil and leave the field with not a single hair out of place, no wonder his team-mates call him ‘Mr Perfect’.

But with ball in hand, he’s an amiable assassin, just ask Australia’s David Warner and Peter Handscomb, his principle victims in a man of the match display.

Woakes dispatched both, as his brilliant opening spell with Jofra Archer laid the foundation for an eight-wicket win over the defending champions that secured England’s place in a first ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup final in 27 years.

Just 24 hours after New Zealand’s Trent Boult and Matt Henry had stunned India’s top order with a hostile – and ultimately decisive – spell of aggressive fast bowling, Woakes and Archer followed their lead.

In cricket’s perennial battle between bat and ball, let’s hear it for the bowlers. What a prospect to savour ahead of Sunday’s final at Lord’s.

Aaron Finch and Warner have been the most prolific opening partnership of this tournament, putting on 123 for the first wicket in their 64-run group stage win over the hosts.

They’ve combined to bludgeon runs from Bristol to Nottingham and all points south and north in recent weeks but they came off distinctly second best in England’s second city.

And, just 16 balls into the match, both were trudging back to the pavilion, Finch later admitting it was the ultimately the moment all was lost.

Archer, who leads England’s World Cup wicket-takers with 19 scalps and has more dot balls than any other bowler, produced a brilliant inswinger to remove the Australian captain with his first ball. And then Woakes, at his Edgbaston home ground, struck with two wickets in three overs.

First, he produced a prancing bouncer that Warner could only fend to second slip and then Handscomb was left totally flat-footed by a delivery than nipped back and splayed his wickets into splinters.

When these two sides met at Lord’s just 16 days ago, England’s bowlers took some criticism for not doing more with the new ball.

But captain Eoin Morgan has always said they learn more from defeats than wins. And, since that match, England have been unstoppable, with consecutive victories against India, New Zealand and now Australia returning them to their sport’s biggest stage with the swaggering confidence of recent years restored.

This was an England bowling display with all the trimmings – they pitched it short, they pitched it up, Adil Rashid fired down a succession of unplayable googlies for three wickets and Archer unleashed a brilliant knuckle ball, which left Glenn Maxwell beaten and bemused.

But for a display of trademark stubbornness by Steve Smith, who kept his head and wicket while all around him where losing theirs, it could have been much worse for Australia.

Both sides had highlighted the importance of the first ten overs – and England delivered on the talk, with ball and with bat.

And concerns about their ability to chase, worries also now comprehensively disproven, were swatted aside as Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow got Edgbaston jumping, karaoke tunes punctuated by a succession of brutal boundaries, including three consecutive sixes by Roy.

Fireworks blazed in the Birmingham sky as Morgan hit the winning runs, a gleeful rather giddy chorus of ‘Cricket’s Coming Home’ drowning out the big bangs.

But, in truth, the real pyrotechnics had come much earlier the day and when Woakes and Archer are in this form, it pays to admire from a safe distance.