If Dawid Malan is to be considered the passport of this England side after selector Ed Smith stated he was needed for cricket overseas, then maybe that makes Chris Woakes the cheese knife. You’d be remiss if you went to Lord’s without him in your hamper.
There is no better place to score your maiden hundred for most Englishmen, but for Woakes that felt like something of an inevitability. Lord’s has been the happiest of all hunting grounds for him with the ball. It was here – during his golden summer two years ago – that he took six for 70 and five for 32 in the same match against Pakistan, resulting in slots on the five-wicket haul and 10-fer in a match honours boards.
When he is eventually dismissed – or England declare, which seems the most likely as they carry a 250-run lead with rain set to play a part in the next two days – Keith Oakley, the signwriter who immortalised Woakes on those two, will make it a hat-trick. The 29-year-old will join Ian Botham, Gubby Allen, Keith Miller and his currently England teammate Stuart Broad as the only English players to appear on all three. His breakdown at Lord’s is staggering: averaging 122 with the bat and 9.93 with the ball.
Before going further, it’s worth remembering the players absent from these boards. Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting failed to leave their mark on this ground. As did Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne. Those four have enough to keep them warm in the winters of their careers, but they all know this is one peak they haven’t scaled.
The majority of Woakes’s Test batting has been done at number eight, even if he did debut at number six and, throughout this knock he very much looked like a four in seven’s clothing, driving through cover and extra cover with the grace of a player who surely won’t stop at a solitary Test hundred. A caressed back-foot punch through cover off Ravichandran Ashwin, far more timing than force, took him level with a career-best 66 scored against Sri Lanka a couple of years ago. No prizes for guessing where.
When he arrived, you would not say England were in bother considering India had been skilled for 107. However, there was a threat that the hosts’ lead might not be as great as it should be and leave the door ajar for the visitors the second time around. At 89 for four – Joe Root dismissed to a grubber that did as much horizontally as it didn’t vertically – there was a hint of “oh no – not again”. A few hours on when tea arrived, Woakes had put on 99 with Jonny Bairstow and England fans were sitting pretty. Eventually, that union ended on 189 when Bairstow nicked through to Dinesh Karthik. That, in part, was down to his on selflessness: launching at anything that moved to enhance England’s lead – which now puts them ahead of the rain, too.
That Woakes finds himself in the team because of Ben Stokes’s unavailability is noteworthy. Not so much that the two are contesting, on paper, for the same spot but for the different prisms through which they are viewed.
One is the livewire who can turn a game on its head. The other is Chris Woakes.
One is the superstar allrounder that clears the bars. The other is Chris Woakes.
Much of that stems from the caricature “good bloke” image that the Warwickshire man carries. Among domestic players, it is between him and Luke Wright for the honour of “nicest man on the circuit”. There are worse tags to have – much, much worse – but it is one that, oddly, seems to dull Woakes’s merits at the highest level. Perhaps it’s more a fault with English cricket’s psyche. We want our allrounders to be rockstars, not boys next door.
Yet, not for the first time in his career, Woakes showed the worth of a cool head. With Bairstow seeing them well from the outset, moving to his 19th Test half-century from 76 balls, Woakes was also at ease, solidly reaching 23 from 41 deliveries. Fast forward 13 balls, and eight Brummie fours, both were then level on 79. From that point on, it was all Woakes.
It was also at this moment that he admitted a few nerves. “I went from 60 to 80 very quickly,” he said at stumps. “Suddenly, you start thinking about three figures”. He’d be forgiven for looking ahead with some desperation too: Woakes has been a consistent international cricketer for five years but has experienced his fair share of misadventure along the way.
Two wickets and an average of 98.50 in South Africa at the start of 2016 had him back on the bench when the 2016 summer began. Last year, he missed the Champions Trophy through injury and went on to take just ten wickets in the winter Ashes in Australia while rallying just 114 runs at 16.28 in seven hits. This summer, an issue with his right knee saw him miss two Tests and all 12 of England’s white-ball matches. Between times, Sam Curran – nine years his junior – had stepped in and won a few hearts. Woakes could have been forgiven for wondering if his England career was starting to slip away from him.
But this time, as he began “wafting at things out side”, Bairstow came down the pitch and eased his woes. Time, whether he believed it or not, was now on his side. A loose delivery from Ashwin on leg stump gave Woakes something of a free hit to move to 90. A couple of (admittedly, anxious) edges later, he was on 97. Then, with a shovel over midwicket off his 129th ball, a three was scampered, the air was punched and a jubilant balcony joined a packed house in offering their man a standing ovation.
As it happens, this was Woakes’s first Test as a father which, he says, has been able to offer him context when dealing with the knocks that top flight sport dishes out. “The lads did ask me where was the baby celebration,” he said when dissecting the blur that was his move to three figures. “For some reason, it wasn’t on my mind. I didn’t really have any ideas about celebrating or how to celebrate.”
It’s not his style. You know – good bloke and all…
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