Chris Woakes is ready to return to action after a deeply frustrating summer which he admits "has reminded me how much I love playing cricket."
Warwickshire and England all-rounder Woakes has not played a single match for county or country this season as a knee injury persisted to such an extent that it ultimately required surgery at the end of July.
The operation was successful and Woakes has been selected in England’s squad for the seven-match T20-tour of Pakistan (September 20-October 2) and subsequent T20 World Cup in Australia (starting October 22).
To say he is looking forward to returning to action would be a colossal under-statement. This summer on the sidelines has only stoked up the 33-year-old’s appetite to play cricket for the Bears and England for “many years yet.”
“It has been really frustrating,” Woakes said. “You never want to be injured but, for me as a player, I want to play as much cricket as possible in English summers because that’s where I feel I’m at my best.
“My plan was to play for the Bears in the first week in May and get three or four championship games in before the international summer, but at that point my knee kicked off. Then the swelling just lingered and lingered. Before we knew it half the summer was gone and that’s when we decided to go down the surgery route.
“Last winter was really busy with the World Cup then straight on to the Ashes and then the Caribbean tour as well. My whole body was a bit weary by that stage but my knee in particular was struggling. At that point I didn’t think it was going to be anywhere near as bad as it turned out to be. It wasn’t bad enough to have surgery straight away but I was in quite a bit of pain. It kind of teased me – some mornings it would be fine and I could train, then it would be back to where it was and really sore.
“It has been incredibly frustrating and times like this in your career, when you have these setbacks and an enforced breather, means you sit back and look at things from a different perspective. It makes you realise how much you still enjoy playing and how much you miss that camaraderie of being around the guys and in the dressing room. Rehabs and injuries are tough times as a professional cricketer because you’re used to being around the boys but, when you are injured, most of the time it’s just you and the gym.
“It has definitely has reminded me how much I love playing cricket and how much I love playing for the Bears and England. When you are in the thick of it and playing constantly sometimes you sort of take it for granted a little bit, but when you miss a summer it reminds you how lucky you are to live the life you live.”
Woakes’ personal frustration has been shared by Warwickshire from a team perspective. His anticipated input for several weeks in the first block of championship games would have been a huge boost to their injury-hit seam attack but, as a centrally-contracted player, his treatment, schedule and availability is dictated by the England & Wales Cricket Board.
“The ECB medical staff oversee my rehab and when I get back to playing,” Woakes said. “I want to play for Warwickshire and England as much as I possibly can and there have been moments throughout the summer when I thought I’d be back, but then the knee didn’t hold up and I knew if I’d played, I wouldn’t have done myself or the team justice.
“I am back bowling now and feeling a lot better. I’m still a way off bowling a load of overs but in Pakistan and the T20 World Cup the max you can bowl is four. I’ve been working hard in the gym pretty much all summer so I feel physically quite good and I’ll use the Pakistan tour as a building block towards the World Cup.
“There are never any guarantees with surgery but hopefully it has sorted the knee out for the long term as well. I am 33, which I don’t see as old, but when you’ve been playing professional sport since 17 as a bowler it does take its toll. The knee definitely feels better and I am hopeful and positive that I can get back to where I was before. I’m working as hard as I can and I still feel that I’ve got a long way to go in my career with hopefully many years yet playing for Warwickshire and England.”
That Woakes’ enthusiasm burns as powerfully as ever is great news for Warwickshire’s fans. This proud Bear intends to go on and on, so could he perhaps one day displace Billy Quaife as the oldest man to play for the Club at 56.
“I think my knee may have given up by then,” he said. “I definitely won’t be bowling as quick but hopefully I’ll be sat upstairs in the pavilion watching the Bears win many more trophies.”