Chris Woakes can’t wait to take the next step on his increasingly alluring journey as a cricketer – and play in a Test match at his beloved Edgbaston.
That moment will arrive next Wednesday when the Warwickshire all-rounder lines up for England against Pakistan in the third Test of a series which is perfectly-poised at 1-1 after England’s brilliant 330-run victory at Emirates Old Trafford.
That result, to which Woakes contributed heavily with 58 runs and seven wickets, propels England towards their favourite Test venue of all in great heart.
Edgbaston, with its pulsating atmosphere and the Hollies Stand in full cry, is a place where England’s players love to perform. All of them are looking forward to next Wednesday immensely but none more than Woakes as he prepares to sample Test cricket on the home turf he first trod as a 16-year-old, for Warwickshire against West Indies A, back in 2006.
“That was a great feeling, just to play for Warwickshire at Edgbaston,” said Woakes. “I remember Ian Westwood scoring a fantastic century and pulling Tino Best in front of square. Tino was really charging in and I was there, a 16-year-old, quaking in the dressing-room.
“I made a solid start, not spectacular, and I certainly wasn’t thinking as far ahead as ‘will I play for England at Edgbaston one day?’ I was just amazed to be playing for Warwickshire at Edgbaston.
“It was a question of taking it one step at a time and the next step was just to get a professional contract which I didn’t have yet.”
That contract, and his championship debut, arrived the following year and Woakes was soon learning his trade in the brilliant academy which is called county cricket. He has learned well. Next week, ten years almost to the day since that match against West Indies A, Woakes will be back at Edgbaston at the heart of the England team.
His Test career has taken time to ignite – but ignite it most definitely now has with a series of stand-out performances, with bat and ball, against Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
In cricket-speak, he could not be in a better place – as he prepares to play his first Test at his most dearly-held cricket place.
“It’s gone pretty well for me this season,” he said. “I can’t put my finger on why, something just clicked. At least it did with the ball – to be honest I’ve been feeling in pretty good nick with the bat all along.
“It is nice to feel I have made a real contribution to the Test team but I know I have got to keep backing it up. I have still only played four successive Tests so I am a long way from properly establishing myself in the side. England have so many good players at the moment you have got to keep performing.
“I just can’t wait for next week. I’m really looking forward to the game, as all the players are because England have such a great record at Edgbaston. It will be a fantastic atmosphere with a full-house roaring the team on and it’s all set up to be a cracking game after our win at Emirates Old Trafford.
“We didn’t play our best cricket at Lord’s and Pakistan showed what a good side they are there, but we gave exactly the right response in Manchester. It was just a brilliant innings from Joe Root – it was a privilege for me to be at the other end for part of it.”
Now attention turns to Edgbaston where Woakes will aim to take up where he left off in first-class cricket. On his last Specsavers County Championship appearance there, on May 23, he obliterated Durham with a career-best nine for 36.
“It was pretty special to take nine wickets at Edgbaston,” he said. “It was a strange one because my first spell wasn’t that threatening but then I got Mark Stoneman out and things just fell into place. I came back on for another spell because Ian Bell knew I was going to join up with England at close of play so wanted to get the most out of me, and batsmen kept nicking it and the catches were all taken.”
Something similar next Wednesday then?
“That would be nice,” he said. “But, whatever happens, to walk out at Edgbaston to play in an Investec Test Match will be a special day. A very special day.”
Tickets for England v Pakistan in the third Investec Test Match at Edgbaston are priced from £31 for adults and £6 for under 16s from www.edgbaston.com/tickets or by calling the Ticket Hotline 0844 847 1902.