England is the most important thing to me, says all-rounder Chris Woakes

Chris Woakes has accepted the time has come when he must pick and choose his battles but promises England will always be his top priority.

At 31 Woakes barely even qualifies for veteran status but, as a pace bowling all-rounder with a long-standing knee condition, he has put his mind and body through a lot over the years.

That is why he made the decision to withdraw from this year’s Indian Premier League – foregoing his ticket to the glitziest tournament on the circuit and a £160,000 pay-packet with Delhi Capitals in the process.

Chris Woakes in England whites last summer.
Chris Woakes in England whites last summer.

It would have been perfectly understandable had he gone a different way, cashing in on the kudos attached to his role in last year’s World Cup win and paving the way for a lucrative career on the Twenty20 circuit.

Instead he will be heading back to Birmingham after this month’s two-Test tour of Sri Lanka – his third of the winter after New Zealand and South Africa.

Something had to give but for Woakes it was never going to be the honour of representing his country.

“I want to play for England as long as possible – that’s still the pinnacle for me,” he said, speaking just over a week out from the first Test in Galle.

“I just feel like I’d been on a bit of a treadmill and I needed to get off for a bit of a breather. From a mental point of view it’s about recharging those batteries.

“The IPL is great but I’ve been there and done it. That’s not to say I don’t want to do it again but at this moment England is the most important thing to me, as well as spending time at home with the family where I can.

“You don’t put yourself into these things intending to pull out. I went into the IPL auction hoping that I would get picked up, it’s a great experience. But it’s impossible to do everything. International cricket can be draining at the best of times because there’s so much pressure on you to perform. There’s always people knocking on the door and to stay on top of your game all year round is hard.

“The schedule has just got busier and busier – the only breaks you really get in international cricket are at IPL time.”

  • March 12-15: First-class match v President's XI, Colombo

  • March 19-23: First Test, Galle

  • March 27-31: Second Test, Colombo

While Woakes seems content in his decision, he admits there is one thing that would have persuaded him to think differently: the chance to become a double world champion.

England head to Australia in October with the chance to add the Twenty20 World Cup to the 50-over prize they landed at Lord’s last July.

But while Woakes remains a cornerstone of the ODI team, he won his last T20 cap back in 2015. That is something of an anomaly given his skills with the white ball, but he understands the reasons and is more than happy with his lot.

“If I felt like I had real good opportunity to be in that T20 squad I’d probably still go to IPL and try to produce some good form,” he said.

“They (the selectors) know what I’m about and what I can do but realistically it’d probably take a few injuries for me to be in contention. I suppose I don’t know the answer to why that happened.

“I think it happened gradually. The 50-over World Cup was prioritised, which was right, and during that period I was rested during a lot of T20 series. Would I want to change that or have it any other way? No, because it meant that I focused more on 50-over cricket and that has made me a World Cup winner – you can’t take that away.

“Hopefully I’ve extended my career rather than trying to spread it across all three formats.”