Cricket Wellington has snared another quality international player, with England all-rounder Chris Woakes confirmed as their overseas pro for this season.
The 23-year-old, who has played six ODIs and three T20 internationals, follows the recent sprigmarks of Muttiah Muralidharan, Brett Lee and Luke Wright on to the Basin Reserve.
A key member of the English county championship-winning Warwickshire side, Woakes will be a Firebird for nearly two months, at the height of the season.
He is scheduled to debut in the Plunket Shield four-dayer against Auckland at Eden Park, starting on November 26. The deal includes two more Plunket Shield games, both at Karori Park in December, plus eight T20 matches and the playoffs in late January, if the Firebirds qualify. Woakes' first T20 match will be against Central Districts in Napier on December 7.
“We identified him quite some time ago as the sort of player we were after; a fast bowling all-rounder and a boundary hitter in the T20 mould," CW chief executive Peter Clinton said.
“He's an exciting young player and he has coped with the pressure of international cricket."
CW originally wanted a pro for the entire season, but reset its goals when Woakes became available for the December-January period after he missed the England squad to tour India. The England Cricket Board rubber-stamped the deal.
With England touring in February-March, it is also a chance for Woakes to push his case in New Zealand conditions. For that reason, and his friendship with Warwickshire team-mate Jeetan Patel, who played a key role in the deal, CW snared a bargain which will cost it little more than match fees.
“The funding has all been sourced up front for him. It's not huge [cost]; we've done pretty well in the end," Clinton said.
Woakes played his most recent ODI against South Africa in Nottingham last month.
Wellington coach Jamie Siddons said Woakes was highly recommended by England coach Andy Flower last year but they couldn't make the deal work.
"It's just fantastic. Everything has fallen into place," Siddons said.
“We had really high recommendations from Jeets and Franky [James Franklin]. They've both been opponents or team-mates and they rated him as one of the better ones around.
“He's got hitting power and you wouldn't be interested in his batting if he didn't have that power to dominate at some point. And he can take the new ball and bowl in the middle or at the finish. He can fill any role that we want, and he's level-headed."
The key now is, can Woakes inspire a turnaround in results for the Firebirds, who are chasing their first trophy since 2004? The brief presence of Muralidharan and Lee was great PR but didn't win Wellington too many matches.
But CW appears to have hit the jackpot with a recent international who can turn a game with bat or ball. Woakes' batting overshadowed his bowling in recent weeks and he ended the county championship with 431 runs at 72, and 27 wickets at 25.
“There's no guarantees. You can get who you think is the best one but they might have a bad couple of weeks," Siddons said.
"I expect that being an all-rounder he'll have impact in some shape or form in most games. I'm looking forward to having someone who has both aspects."
Wellington's former English all-rounder Graham Napier was also high on the CW wishlist, and would be approached if Woakes went amiss.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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