The Dukes to Kookaburra switch: ‘Extract bounce as much as possible,’ says Woakes

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“Naturally you bowl a little shorter here but you don’t want to be drawn into bowling too short”

It’s a question that dogs England ahead of every Ashes tour: can their attack master the Kookaburra ball like their favoured Dukes back home?

The Kookaburra, which swings considerably less than the Dukes used in the UK, has unstuck England’s bowlers over the years on batting-friendly Australian pitches, which are generally harder and bouncier.

England have not won a Test in Australia since their famous 2010-11 Ashes triumph, and to break that drought, they will need to crack open Australia’s top order led by Steven Smith and David Warner, who have put pedestrian bowling from the tourists to the sword over the years, and the latest star in Marnus Labuschagne.

Allrounder Chris Woakes was one such quick, who struggled in England’s 4-0 thrashing in 2017-18, finishing with ten wickets at 49.50 from four Tests. He and some of England’s less experienced exponents of the Kookaburra are likely to counsel James Anderson and Stuart Broad – veterans of Ashes tours though with mixed success overall with the ball – ahead of the first Test at the Gabba on December 8.

“The Kookaburra is very different to the Dukes and what we’re used to back home,” Woakes said on Thursday in Brisbane as England were finally able to get some time in the middle with the rain staying away. “We have a good amount of experience from guys who have been here before. We touch base with those guys to see what’s worked in the past.”

The vagaries of the Kookaburra have traditionally been tough for England’s bowlers to grasp, exacerbated on this tour thus far by the lack of match practice due to Brisbane’s poor weather.

“It’s about trying to experiment. Getting the ball to move sideways is probably the biggest challenge,” Woakes said. “Trying to work different things, like how we hold it. Trying to get the ball to move off the straight is quite important.”

Woakes, who bowled superbly on his return to Test cricket against India at The Oval after an absence of a year, added that England’s quicks, excellent exponents of swing, had to be prepared to adapt with ball in hand amid conditions more conducive to bounce – traditionally a main characteristic of the Gabba. But a key, according to Woakes, would be not going overboard with short-pitched bowling, which has perennially undone overeager bowlers in Australia.

“You have to be willing to change your game… different ball, different conditions [to England],” he said. “You do get good bounce here. Trying to extract that as much as possible. Naturally you bowl a little shorter here but you don’t want to be drawn into bowling too short. [It’s about] trying to utilise that bounce.”

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth and writes on sports for the Guardian and mailerreport

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