Chris Woakes has banked the “surreal” experience of twice taking six wickets in a one-day international, but knows only continued improvement will keep him at the centre of England’s World Cup plans.
At 25 years old and with just 22 ODIs behind him, Woakes is the only frontline England bowler to have taken six in an innings – former captain Paul Collingwood also did so – since the format was invented almost 45 years ago.
Woakes’s 6-45 in his second match at Brisbane almost four years ago remains his career-best, but he was only two runs away from matching it after his late blitz of five wickets in 17 balls helped to set up England’s five-wicket win over Sri Lanka at Pallekele.
They had to come back on the reserve day to finish the job, because heavy rain delayed the reply to 239 all out – but after centurion Joe Root and James Taylor launched a comfortable chase, England returned to the same venue this morning in search of a series-levelling win which would ensure a decider back in Colombo.
Woakes got his reward, not always forthcoming despite bowling well in last summer’s Test series against India, and he appears to be a coming force again after being overlooked for almost a year following his Test debut at the end of the 2013 Ashes.
He sees his new claim to fame, however, as merely a start – and one which he must use as a launchpad if he is to be sure of a place in the England attack when the World Cup starts in February, with injured pace spearheads Stuart Broad and James Anderson expected to be back by then.
“It’s quite surreal,” he said.
“Six wickets in a one-day game doesn’t come around very often, so it’s nice to be there in the top three.
“It’s quite an honour... but, fingers crossed, I don’t want to finish there.”
Woakes faces competition for places not just with Broad and Anderson but the attack currently in Sri Lanka – most obviously Steven Finn and Chris Jordan, who is also back on an upward curve.
“It’s always at the back of your mind,” said the Warwickshire all-rounder.
“With Jimmy and Broady not being here, it has given some of the guys – particularly myself – the opportunity to put our hand up and show the management and coaches what we can do.
“It’s good experience, good exposure – and the more you play at international level, the better you get.
“Everyone wants to be in that World Cup squad.
“Every opportunity you take gives you a chance to be on that tour.
“I wouldn’t say it’s cemented for me... it’s almost a dream come true to get on that plane to the World Cup for your country.”
Woakes had to be patient while others were preferred in all formats after that drawn Oval Test against Australia.
But he impressed once he returned – even if the wickets came only at a trickle.
“Once I got back into that Test side, I managed to stay in for the three wins against India,” he added.
“I feel it was maybe a bit of a turning point... it has been nice to be on this tour, get a run of games and show people what I can do.”
Woakes’s second-string batting has yet to fire here but he is undoubtedly on song with the ball, having added the requisite pace some believed was lacking when he first appeared for England.
“It is a big responsibility bowling the tough overs, but I have enjoyed it,” he said.
“Pressure situations, if you are an opening bowler or one of the main bowlers, you’re going to have to deal with them.
“So the more exposure you get to them, the better you’ll be when you’re next put in that position.”
When it happens again, he can draw confidence from his current wicket-taking knack.
“You are likely to go around the park a bit, but it is an opportunity to take wickets... always to turn up at the end, and get your swag-bag out,” he said, of bowling when the slog is on.
“It’s a results business. If you’re not taking wickets, you’ll easily be pushed out of the squad.
“But if you continue to do the right things, and do them often enough, you’ll get your rewards eventually.”
England have officially added Kent wicketkeeper Sam Billings to their provisional World Cup squad, in place of Craig Kieswetter.
The International Cricket Council acceded to England’s request to add uncapped 23-year-old Billings, following Kieswetter’s announcement that he is likely to be unavailable for the whole of 2015 due to injury.
The Somerset wicketkeeper has suffered complications to an eye problem, having resumed playing since being hit in the face by a short ball last summer only to encounter subsequent difficulties with his vision.
England have two other wicketkeepers in their 30-man squad, first choice Jos Buttler and Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow.
Confirmation from the England and Wales Cricket Board that Billings will be a third coincides with the ICC’s publication of 12 of the 14 squads from countries taking part in the World Cup – which begins in February next year in Australia and New Zealand.
Ireland and Australia’s squads are yet to be publicised, by those countries’ requests.
England are expected to pare their 30 down to 16 next week, when they name the touring party for the tri-series in Australia which will precede their World Cup campaign. All squads must be reduced to 15 in early January, five weeks before the global tournament gets under way.