One of England's most promising cricketers rolled up to Karori Park yesterday for a light bat and a bowl.
Chris Woakes is trying to break into the England set-up as a genuine all-rounder and hopes a couple of months with the Wellington Firebirds will help his cause.
Woakes bowls a lively outswinger and averaged 71.83 at No 7 with the bat for Warwickshire in the County Championship this year, so we are talking a quality player.
His way into the England side is blocked by Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan but Woakes hopes that, if he plays well in New Zealand conditions, then his country might pick him for their tour here in February-March.
Yesterday he got a taste of the wind and the Kookaburra ball that are part and parcel of cricket in New Zealand. He has Broad's slight build and is not overly tall for an international quick bowler but his action is high and efficient and his seam presentation top-notch.
Wellington welcomed him with open arms. Firebirds captains Grant Elliott and Stephen Murdoch and coaches Jamie Siddons and Shane Deitz were on hand to watch the 23-year-old run off some jet-lag.
Woakes says he is excited to be on his first non-structured trip overseas. By that he means all previous cricket tours were with England or England A where everything off the park is done for you.
"It's a good experience for me," Woakes said. "To come out on my own is different and a good challenge for me."
Woakes knows one person in Wellington - Jeetan Patel. The pair were team-mates in Warwickshire's championship-winning team this year. "That is what Jeets did for us at Warwickshire so hopefully I can return the favour."
Woakes is Wellington's major signing for the Twenty20 competition. He will play their remaining eight games as well as three Plunket Shield matches, starting with a four-dayer in Auckland on Monday.
"I just want to come in and perform well and help them win cricket matches. From what I've heard, they haven't performed as well as they could have."
Woakes does have six one-day internationals under his belt for England and some impressive first-class statistics for Warwickshire, namely 250 wickets at 25.05 and six centuries.
For him to go permanently to the next level, he believes he needs to find "a yard of pace" and put plenty of runs on the board.
"My aim is to become a regular in the [England] side and not a fringe player called in when there is an injury. It is such a hard side to break into at the moment but . . .
"The extra yard of pace is something I am working on with my bowling. I've definitely got quicker than I was."
Woakes is Birmingham-born and raised. He excelled at cricket from an early age and supports Aston Villa in the English Premier League.
Meanwhile, Wellington have made two changes for their trip to Auckland. Woakes replaces injured left-armer Andy McKay and Mark Houghton comes in for Luke Woodcock, who will become a father any day.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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