Chris Woakes has conceded that his winter of inaction with England "felt like a bit of a waste", and revealed that he had received an apology from the team management and the ECB over the shared car ride that led to him having to self-isolate on arrival in Sri Lanka in January.
Woakes has not played international cricket since last September, having travelled to South Africa, Sri Lanka and India without making it into the starting XI in any format of the game. He was recalled this week to the T20I squad for the first time in almost six years, and while admitting that had come as a surprise he said he would be hoping to push himself into the selectors' thinking ahead of the T20 World Cup later this year.
"I haven't been in this squad for a while and I look at this as an opportunity" he said. "It is great for me to be back amongst the squad. I don't take any squad selection for granted, I am certainly not just here to make up the numbers - if I get a go I will be trying to stake a claim. I also realise there are a few injuries knocking around but that doesn't take anything away from me being part of this England team and putting my hand up to be part of this World Cup - with two World Cups around the corner."
T20 is the only format Woakes has had any game time in recently, initially at the IPL and then with Birmingham Bears in the Vitality Blast. After being named PCA Men's Player of the Year last summer, Woakes was part of the ODI squad that flew to South Africa only to return without playing a game after concerns over bio-security. He then missed the first Test in Sri Lanka - a game he felt he was "a shoo in to play" - after being deemed a close contact of Moeen Ali, who tested positive for Covid-19 on arrival in the country.
When the Test team moved on to India, Woakes was repeatedly overlooked before returning home as part of the ECB's rotation policy, then missed the three ODIs due to the logistical demands of travel and quarantine required to rejoin the England bubble. "I just want to put it behind me really and look to what's ahead," he said. "It's certainly been a tough seven or eight months since last September.
"It all bubbles up to a really frustrating time. Not playing a single game all winter, after the summer I had, almost felt like a bit of a waste for me. Still great to be with the squad but you want to be playing cricket and making the most of your form when you're hot."
On the decision to send him and Moeen in a shared taxi from Birmingham to Heathrow, despite the multitude of protocols in place to protect players from potential Covid-19 transmission, Woakes said that he had "vented" his frustration at the time, with his period in isolation effectively costing him his place in the side.
"I felt like I was kind of a shoo in to play that first Test match in Sri Lanka, and obviously having had what happened, therefore obviously it did have a knock-on effect, [if] the team wins or the team does as well, all of a sudden it becomes hard to break back in. It doesn't mean that I'd have played all the Test matches for the winter, but it might mean that I'd have had an opportunity to put my hand up before in a strong performance. And then the thoughts around selection for further Test matches might have been different.
"I vented my frustration at the time, and apologies were given. [No] stone was [left unturned], but unfortunately that was the one thing that we did not quite get it right, and I did pay a price for that."
Having opted to go to the IPL after being picked up at auction by Delhi Capitals, Woakes then missed England's two-Test series with New Zealand earlier this month. That decision was agreed between the player and ECB, with Woakes saying time away from home had "taken its toll mentally" - but he was keen to find a way to press his case for a Test return against India later in the summer, despite few opportunities to play red-ball cricket over the next six weeks.
"I spent a lot of time away from home in that period and it had kind of taken its toll mentally," he said. "The IPL was very much a decision which I took on, it's on my shoulders, but I felt it was a great opportunity to learn and play some cricket after the winter I'd had.
"Those two Tests versus New Zealand were put in [the schedule] quite late and I think the issue was as soon as getting out of isolation in London I'd have had to have a few days at home then play for Warwickshire to make myself available for any part of that Test series. Then there's the tricky side of Covid restrictions and getting back in that bubble. Once we'd made the decision it was never really an option to play the second Test match. You'd have had to be in the bubble from the start.
"It's a real tricky situation. I felt I needed a refresh and some time at home with the young family. I kind of put up the pros and cons of missing that two-match series. It was very much in our hands, I spoke to Spoons [head coach Chris Silverwood] and the rest of the backroom staff here and they said 'as much as we feel you probably should have a breather and get away from cricket, it is on you. If you want to be part of that we'll definitely let you'.
"I decided that little break would do me good in the long run. They certainly know I want to play Test cricket, don't get me wrong. I haven't played much red-ball cricket but they know I want to be a part of that Test squad and I believe they want me to be part of it so hopefully come that India series I'll be fit and firing and ready to play a big part of that."