We caught up with Chris Woakes, the Warwickshire legend widely acknowledged as ‘the nicest man in cricket’, ahead of the madness of The Hundred which rolls into town next month
The Hundred is back this summer and Warwickshire’s finest, Chris Woakes is ready for his first experience of the tournament – playing in it at least. The all-rounder has been in the Birmingham Phoenix squad for two years since The Hundred’s inception, but injury has stopped him competing. This year he says he’s fighting fit, although he does quickly and hopefully jokingly adds: “Fit so far!” We’re crossing fingers and touching wood as it would be incredible to see him firing on all cylinders over the summer.
Aside from The Hundred’s obvious ‘glitz and glamour’, there’s a lot to be grateful to the tournament for. It’s attracted record crowds and boosted cricket’s profile generally. The women’s game has benefitted immeasurably, giving the ladies equal billing with the men, and girls’ cricket is thriving. I speak from experience with two daughters who dipped their toe in the water after watching an electric women’s game at Edgbaston who are now playing their third season. We interviewed Izzy Wong during The Hundred’s first year and she was cock-a-hoop the tournament was more equal. Things as simple as using the same gym as the men were novel then.
Chris has always been a champion of the women’s game. He says: “There have been people banging the drum for a while then along came The Hundred and the opportunity for the women’s game to be equal and professional. The women’s game has gone from strength to strength.”
Chris has played at Warwickshire since he was ten years old having picked cricket over football which he was also decent at and feels utterly privileged to have had a career here. He reflects: “I still feel very lucky. If you’d told me about my career before I started playing, I’d have bitten your hand off. Obviously, with this career comes added pressure, but I take the rough with the smooth.” Chris played his first professional game in 2006 and he says Edgbaston has changed ‘a hell of a lot’. He adds: “What hasn’t changed though is the brilliant people and the atmosphere. The backing and the home support at Edgbaston adds a different dimension.”
When Chris was growing up test cricket was the primary format. Now the cricketing schedule looks very different peppered with white ball tournaments and he thinks there’s room for both. “It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s got people watching and it’s enjoyable.” The IPL in India has been a particular highlight and something Chris says nothing prepares you for. “It is crazy. You’re treated like a rock star in India. I’m pleased to have experienced it – as well as the passion it’s a really high standard.” Chris says it’d be good to try to replicate the passion here – I suggest The Hollies stand toward the end of a day at The Hundred is not far off, not to mention the double decker back to New St Station from Edgbaston. Rocking!
Chris is only 34 years old but is asked about retirement a fair bit lately – for the record, he brought it up not me. He says although he’s obviously aware that a sporting career is a short one, he hasn’t set out his stall yet. “I’m living in the now which I think is important otherwise I might take my eye off the ball so to speak.”