One of those things - Woakes keen not to wade in on Smith flashpoint

By Sports Desk January 12, 2021

England all-rounder Chris Woakes was keen not to be drawn on Steve Smith's latest controversy - stating only the former Australia captain's actions against India were those of habit or gamesmanship.

Stump cameras showed Smith apparently scuffing up Rishabh Pant's guard in between deliveries as the India wicketkeeper struck a brilliant counter-attacking 97 in Sydney, helping the visitors to a draw in the third Test.

Smith was forced to stand down as Australia skipper and served a ban for his part in the 2018 ball tampering scandal.

His successor Tim Paine also found himself at the centre of controversy after a foul-mouthed exchange with Ravichandran Ashwin, which compounded a dreadful display behind the stumps.

Speaking ahead of England's Test series in Sri Lanka, Woakes looked to remain above the fray when it came to Smith - perhaps mindful of having just entered an Ashes year.

"I'm sure people have got their opinions on it. It's not the first time that I've seen something like that happen," he said.

"The fact it's such a big series, a big player in a big moment probably means it's been blown up a little bit.

"There's only one person who knows whether he was doing it to affect the opposition batsman or not and that's Steve himself.

"You can look at it a few different ways. You can say he was shadow batting, doing what he'd normally do and it's a bit of a habit. Or you could say that he was trying to distract Rishabh. It's one of those things."

Asked whether Australia had been shown to be "up to old tricks again", a smiling Woakes replied: "It's hard for me to say, watching from a million miles away, that he was doing it to get into the Indian batsmen's minds.

"Potentially, but as I said, there's only one person who knows exactly what he was trying to do.

"I know Tim Paine came out and backed him as you'd expect him to do. That's all I can say on the matter."

Woakes was forced to quarantine for the first week of England's tour after travelling to the airport with team-mate Moeen Ali, who subsequently tested positive for coronavirus.

Despite establishing himself as an increasingly pivotal member of Joe Root's side, the 31-year-old acknowledges Thursday's first Test might come too soon for him.

"I'm certainly up against it in terms of time," Woakes said, having revealed his fitness regime over the past week amounted to workouts with fit bands and a medicine ball on his hotel balcony.

"I only had my first bowl yesterday. The other guys have been bowling for nearly a week. The chances of me playing are probably quite slim."

Nevertheless, some unexpected rainfall in Galle might persuade Root to call upon Woakes' mastery of seam and swing on a surface still expected to take plenty of turn.

"The pitch, as you'd expect, does look quite dry. But it has rained quite a bit here in the last few days and the pitch earlier this morning was a bit tacky and spikes went into the surface," he added.

"Whether that plays a part, I don't know."

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