‘If it swings around, I’m happy’: Woakes hopes World Cup remains a bowler’s dream | England cricket team

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When England played their first match against Australia, back at the start of this already long tour, and Jos Buttler cracked the first ball of the game for four, a sense of easy familiarity settled over many observers. We knew this story.

England reached a total of 208, with Buttler and Alex Hales scoring fast and free, and the team followed the path to success that had been widely plotted for this squad: pack the side with brilliant batters; bludgeon a total 20 or 30 above par; win.

But since that evening in Perth England’s tail has wagged the dog: the batting has been fine, but the bowlers have been decisive. Those involved would not admit to being surprised by this, but it has been a real bonus.

“We bowled second in all three games against Australia, and winning games by bowling second has given us some real confidence,” said Chris Woakes. “The majority of teams in this tournament will look to bowl first and chase. Generally, that’s the strength of most teams – they find it easier to chase scores rather than set them. We’re no different. We’ve clearly got a good batting lineup, as do a lot of other teams, but it’s good for us that we’ve been able to do well as a bowling unit. We’re fine with bowling second.”

They have been for a while: in the past year England have won nine of 13 matches when they have batted first and six of 15 going second. But the sense when the squad was picked was not of great confidence or depth in the bowling options. Of the 13 men who have bowled the most for England in the past two years only Jofra Archer, who is rehabilitating from a stress fracture of the spine, was not included. Four of them were selected despite being injured at the time.

That gamble seems to have paid off. Reece Topley has been ruled out of the tournament with a fresh injury but Woakes, Mark Wood, Chris Jordan and Tymal Mills, then a travelling reserve but since promoted to the squad, have fully recovered. If they managed to watch the chaotic and enthralling match between India and Pakistan at the MCG on Sunday with an analytical eye, they will have been extremely encouraged.

After their game against Afghanistan – which, like that tour opener against Australia, was played in Perth – Woakes said the pitch had suited England’s seamers perfectly. “I’d be surprised if we get another one as pacey as that. I’d happily bowl on it every week.”

But Sunday’s at the MCG was another level entirely. Not only was it lightning fast but India’s bowlers got more swing in the first half of Pakistan’s innings than has been seen in any World Cup match since 2014. The forecast for Wednesday, when England play Ireland, and Friday, when they face Australia, is for overcast conditions and so long as the threatened rain holds off this brings more encouragement still.

“If it’s overcast and swinging around, I’m more than happy for it to be like that,” said Woakes. “It’s usually hot sunshine and flat wickets here so I’m more than happy for it to be a bowler-dominated tournament. If the ball does move in the air that certainly helps us as a bowling unit.”

England's Adil Rashid of England bowls during the T20 World Cup match against Afghanistan.
England’s Adil Rashid has struggled to take wickets in past few months. Photograph: Paul Kane/Getty Images

But not, though, every member. England’s one truly out-of-sorts player is Adil Rashid, who since the start of the English summer has averaged 0.57 wickets a match (up to this summer it had been 1.11) at an average of 52.87 (up from 22.71), while leaking nine runs an over (previously 7.26).

Rashid is one of England’s great white-ball players, will surely come good again and there have been no indications that he will be dropped. But the presence in the team of Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone, the treatment the Pakistan and India spinners Mohammad Nawaz and Axar Patel received (combined figures: 5-0-63- 2) and the near-certainty of seam-friendly conditions, perhaps it is time for England to think the unthinkable.

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