Remember when Ian Bell grew an almost-beard? That was a statement if ever there was one.
Ian Bell’s beard said, “I am grizzled nowadays. I am a veteran. I am a man.”
Gingery and flecked with grey, Bell’s was the facial hair of a cowboy who’d been on the trail for a few days. Bell’s beard had barely eaten and had only washed in an icy river. Bell’s beard was saddle sore. Bell’s beard had killed a man.
It wasn’t a beard that reflected its owner. It was a beard that tried to persuade you to think differently of its owner.
It was a ploy; a gambit.
It was a statement beard.
Statement beards go one of two ways. (1) Turns out you had the man wrong and the beard helped you see this. (2) You had the man right all along and his attempt to talk with his follicles only served to emphasise the unbelievable shallowness of his supposed transformation.
(There was also that time when Bell grew a bit of a moustache. No idea what that was about. If that was a statement, it was lost in translation.)
Another example: remember when David Warner grew a beard?
Warner’s beard was like he heard he was going to spend a year in the metaphorical wilderness and took this to mean he should spend a year in the actual wilderness and so he slept in a tent in the bush with no razor.
Warner’s was also statement beard. Warner’s beard said, “I can change. No, really, I can. I’ll prove it. I’ll grow a beard.”
A final example: remember when Yousuf Youhana grew a beard?
Yousuf Youhana’s beard said, “I am Mohammad Yousuf,” and a great many more things besides.
Well now Chris Woakes has grown a beard. We don’t know much about Chris Woakes, but we know enough to be pretty damn confident that this is another statement beard.
If you’re a man like Chris Woakes, a beard doesn’t just creep up on you. Some of us routinely spend five or six days blithely sauntering towards a beard before abruptly changing course – but not Chris Woakes. No way. He claims he was ‘being lazy’ and went a couple of days without shaving, but there’s no way that happened by accident.
Chris Woakes flosses regularly. Chris Woakes irons his T-shirts. Chris Woakes is the kind of man who shaves in the morning and then also shaves in the evening just in case there’s a middle-of-the-night fire drill.
Chris Woakes decided to grow a beard; he didn’t just look in the mirror one day and discover he had one. He went from thinking to himself, “I am a man who definitely does not have a beard,” to thinking, “I will become a man with a beard.”
It seems like a small thing but it is actually a very big thing. Deciding to grow a beard is – and we’re only very slightly sorry for using this word – a rebrand.
Two questions, neither of which we can satisfactorily answer.
- What is the beard supposed to say?
- What precipitated the change?
When we first got a tip off that Woakes had grown a beard… (Yes, an actual tip off. From a journalist. This is the kind of trivial thing other people in the cricket media think we’ll want to write about, which would quite possibly be insulting if it didn’t happen to be 100 per cent correct.)
When we first got a tip off that Woakes had grown a beard, our first thought was that he’d surely be trying to cultivate a tougher image. We then learned that the beard was a bit more “young Will Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation,” which is about the least tough beard there’s ever been. (The dorky BBC Breakfast presenter who always makes Naga Munchetty roll her eyes has the same sort of beard.)
So Woakes is not going for grit. He’s growing a beard for some other reason. What that reason is, we can only speculate.
And we will.
Theory 1: Chris Woakes wants people to know that he can still surprise
Woakes is now 31 matches into his Test career and we’ve seen a fair bit from him. We’ve seen some brilliant performances at home, but probably only one good performance away from home (4-36 at Adelaide – and Australia won).
This has become his reputation – good at home, not good away – and he no longer gets the benefit of the doubt. “You know what you get from Woakes,” is both a compliment and a criticism.
Woakes is aware of this and he knows he needs to do something about it. How can an ambitious young man ensure he isn’t typecast? With a rebrand of course.
“A beard? On Chris Woakes?” people say. “Seems like he still has the capacity to surprise after all.”
Theory 2: Woakes hasn’t changed. Mainstream culture has changed
Could it be that beards have now become so commonplace that having a beard just this week became the ‘normal’ option and living barometer of normal, Chris Woakes, acted accordingly?
It definitely could.
So with the beard’s intended statement in no way clarified, on to our second question: what precipitated the change? As with Eoin Morgan finally drinking a coffee the other day, what earth-shattering event could possibly have led to such a monumental, face-changing decision.
If it’s the Stationary Woakes/Fluid Mainstream Culture thing then we have our answer, but if not, what was it? What sort of traumatic event has Chris Woakes suffered that has driven him to renounce the razor (except for tidying up around the edges)?
Before we’d actually seen it, we were utterly convinced that Woakes had grown a beard so that people would think of him as a gnarly elder statesman of the team. We assumed he would be trying to cultivate a bit of Wildling snarl so that people would see him as more of a fighter.
But it’s just not that kind of a beard.
We can only assume that the start of another away tour has resulted in an immediate and overwhelming desire to be seen as being a little less predictable; a little more unusual; a little less fast-medium.
And there is something faintly exotic about the beard. Look at it again. Look at it closely. It’s just a little bit gyros; a little bit skepasti.
“I’m Chris Woakes,” it says, “and I’ve learned that wobble seam delivery.”