Ben Jones analyses a fantastic opening spell.
It was a day where everything came full circle.
England were embarrassed in 2015, blown to smithereens by side after side as they collapsed and fell out of the tournament. They sat in their hotel rooms and watched Australia charge on to another world title. Today, they knocked Australia out.
Eoin Morgan led England to that most disastrous campaign ever, visibly frustrated by the limitations of his side as they floundered and fell. He set in motion a revolution, threw everything out, then returned to the highest stage with his chest puffed out. He hit more sixes than anyone in history, against Afghanistan at Old Trafford. Today, he led his side to a World Cup final. Their first in a generation.
Joe Root played in that tournament too, of course. This summer, he’s made enough centuries to scrub the stain of the campaign from his record; Jos Buttler too. Moeen Ali has struggled, but he’s been removed from the firing line.
One other man from this squad played in 2015. He’s probably the lowest profile player in this squad, not boosted by controversy or celebrity. Chris Woakes struggled in Australia, like many others, but more than most he was cast as a symbol of an English obsession with medium pace swing in an era of high pace and legspin. He took five wickets at 47, with an economy of more than a run a ball. He was spanked back to England.
Of course, since then, Woakes has been elite. He’s the Powerplay king, or at least the crown prince. Those around him in the corridors of P1 power are household names across the world. Your Boults, Your Rabadas. Your Bhuvis.
Yet sport doesn’t really work like that, sadly. Cricket, in particular, struggles to find a balance for atoning past sins. Epochal failure is never erased by sustained excellence; 100 good days are rarely justification for one bad day. The highest stage invites harsher judgement, sterner critics, and to make up for that campaign, you have to step up and be better on the same stage. For Woakes, today was that day.
Today he found a false shot with 36% of his deliveries in his opening spell; only three times in his whole career has he bettered that. He delivered one of the most devastating spells of his career, as David Warner and Steve Smith leapt around the crease, and Australia’s World Cup hopes were reduced to rubble.
He understood, with that oft-ridiculed experience of the English white ball seamer, that today was a day to let the ball do the talking, to the let the conditions do the work. He sent down just under half of his deliveries on a good length, more than any other bowler in the match. This was a man on home turf, who knew what was required on this pitch.
Ahead of the tournament, there were concerns in the England camp that Woakes was no longer swinging the white ball. The king of red ball swing was not able to replicate it in the shorter format; the need for David Willey, in their minds, was clear if not compelling. Woakes’ re-emergence as a bowler capable of deceiving a batsman through the air, regardless of the colour of the clothes they’re wearing.
In today’s opening spell, he swung the ball 0.83°; since the last World Cup, he’s only swung the ball more twice first up. There is a very specific magic to finding your best form on the biggest occasion of your career, and Woakes conjured it today.
There was plenty of support at the other end of course. Jofra Archer was sublime. It was the first time this tournament that Archer’s first ball would have hit the stumps. He managed to find his radar just at the point he needed it most. Archer and Woakes won this match for England. The party started when Roy and Bairstow were kicking off later in the day, but the game was won in the first hour. Australia’s WinViz sunk to below 20%, and they were never able to recover.
Chris Woakes’ bowling impact was today +45. According to our model, the average bowler would have conceded 45 more runs than Woakes did in this match; that could have been decisive. Mitchell Starc with the scent of blood in the air is a different bowler to one chasing a lost cause. The margin of victory at the end of the game tells one story, but it could have been closer. Australia checked out with around 80 to win. The fields became lapse, the plans became basic. They gave up, but had the distance from defeat has been 120, 130, then who knows. Woakes’ contribution may have been chronologically furthest from the victory post, but it was the most vital we saw.
It’s easy to focus on the glamorous introduction of England’s swaggering batsmen, on how a generation of players seemed to emerge out nowhere, ready to play the style of cricket Eoin Morgan was desperate to play. But just as impressive is the way that England have managed to drag the old guard with them, and tweak the skills that were once ridiculed to make them relevant to the modern game. Setting players on a new course is just as important as bringing in new players.
Today, Chris Woakes came full circle. He had his moment on the highest stage to atone for that campaign. He’ll go into Sunday knowing that, win or lose, he’s erased the pain of that tournament, and that anything from here is a bonus. That’s a hell of a position to be in.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.