Chris Woakes looked to have bowled himself into England’s Test team when their tour of Sri Lanka was called off but, like players across the globe, he is now wondering when his next game may be.
Woakes was vying with Sam Curran for a place in the Test side – a situation that has become familiar of late to the two all-rounders – and having picked up two early wickets on day two of England’s final warm-up he was seemingly in line for cap No 34.
By this stage thoughts in the camp had started to drift to loved ones at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, such that there is no sense of what may have been for a player still striving to break into Joe Root’s plans away from home.
“There was an eerie feel to it all,” says Woakes, back home and now starting a planned break early. “Warm-up games can sometimes be tricky to get up for without a crowd but this was one felt a toucher flatter than usual.
“Halfway through that final session on the second day Rooty popped off for a couple of overs, then got us into a non-contact huddle and it was pretty obvious what was going on – the tour was off. It was probably a relief to be honest. This virus seems pretty vicious in terms of the elderly and worries had started to creep in for relatives.
“Sam and I are used to competing for a place, not least abroad. We’re good mates and it doesn’t affect us. Potentially I was looking at that first Test but I don’t think I can say the right decision hasn’t been made. Cricket has to go on the back burner when things like this happen.”
Woakes says the start of the tour scarcely felt different to others and, while strict social distancing measures were in place, being mindful of hygiene is nothing new for an England squad on the subcontinent – not least one decimated by a gastro bug during the recent 3-1 win in South Africa.
“At the time you wondered if a bigger deal was being made of it than the reality,” Woakes says. “But you put your trust in experts and our team doc [Gurjit Bhogal] was brilliant. We had a one-in-all-in mentality. Turning down autographs and selfies was not ideal – as a team we pride ourselves on those things – but I think people understood.
“Ideally your sole focus is on trying to perform for your country and to a certain degree I think we achieved that for the first 10 days. We’d trained well and were tuning up our skills nicely. It wasn’t until that last warm-up things started to ramp up and you could tell attention was sliding away.
“Being away from home and following events on social media, things can appear to be moving quite fast. When other sporting events got cancelled it started to feel a bit serious, being so far from home with loved ones to think about and the worry about possible quarantine scenarios.”
Had Jofra Archer and Mark Wood been fit for the tour Woakes fancies conditions may have seen him surplus to requirements, despite being the pick of the bowlers against New Zealand in Hamilton before Christmas and another encouraging showing in the fourth Test in South Africa.
This unexpected third winter tour is what prompted his decision to turn down a £160,000 deal in the Indian Premier League. It is a decision he does not regret, even if that tournament is in doubt, yet franchises may now be wary of securing his services in future.
“I like to think you stick to your values and the reasons were for me to be at home regardless. You’ll get the odd negative comment on social media but the positive response from those close to me will stay with me. It puts everything in perspective.”
The question is when will top-level cricket resume? The Pakistan Super League wraps up behind closed doors this week, leaving little but uncertainty thereafter. The England and Wales Cricket Board is conducting conference calls with the counties this week before any decisions are made.
“Everyone is wondering when we’ll be back,” Woakes says. “Will the season start in a month’s time? It seems unlikely. Or will we be waiting months and months? To be honest, as much as you want to get out there, it has to be the right time for the country.
“You follow the experts and it seems it might get worse before it gets better. We just have to watch this space, stay fit and wait for the call. I was intending to be off for a couple of weeks anyway but I’ll keep my fitness up and then we’ll hopefully have a better idea.”
Surrey six in isolation
Six members of Surrey’s squad are self-isolating after reporting symptoms in line with those for Covid-19.
The county had already cancelled a training camp in Dubai for which the squad were due to depart on Tuesday but had continued preparations for the season in a heated marquee at the Oval as well as the ground’s indoor centre.
The six unnamed players have been whipped out of action and instructed to remain at home for a week. Not all are showing signs of coronavirus but the group are based on recent proximity.
Jason Roy had recently returned early from the Pakistan Super League – one of nine English cricketers players to do so amid fears over future travel restrictions – while Ollie Pope, Ben Foakes and Sam Curran are back home after England’s tour of Sri Lanka was called off last Friday.
This quartet will join the Surrey squad in training from next week, although serious doubts remain as to whether the County Championship will be in a position to take place come its intended start date of 12 April.