Chris Woakes slipped straight back into the groove with not a hint of rust… after the toughest year of his career, he reminded England what they have been missing
- Chris Woakes took 4-55 on his return to the England side against India
- Bowler slipped into his rhythm quickly and was the pick of his side’s bowlers
- Woakes has not taken a Test wicket for 373 days but seems to be in the groove
Chris Woakes might never have been away. His fourth ball swung late, narrowly missing the edge as Rohit Sharma was lured into the drive. His sixth was a brute, which Sharma fended to Jonny Bairstow.
Siren call followed by snorter, and not a hint of rust. That’s how to reintroduce yourself to Test cricket.
It had been 373 days since Woakes last enjoyed the thrill of a Test wicket: Pakistan’s Mohammad Rizwan at Southampton’s Ageas Bowl. As the weeks stretched into months, then totalled a year, he might reasonably have wondered if the knack had deserted him.
Chris Woakes was superb for England upon his return to the side for the fourth Test
But not for nothing is Woakes England’s most cheerful cricketer. And so, on a mainly grey day in south London, he emerged from the most trying 12 months of his career with a spring in his step and a smile on his face. Really, it was more than anyone deserved.
Last summer, his sunny optimism became a leitmotif. Not only did he take 17 wickets in five home Tests at 20 apiece, he helped pave the way for a series win against Pakistan with a crucial half-century at Old Trafford.
Then, in January, he shared a taxi with Moeen Ali to Heathrow en route to Sri Lanka, and everything unravelled. When Ali tested positive for Covid, Woakes was forced into quarantine. And with pandemic touring life precluding warm-up matches, he had no chance to prove himself ready for Test cricket. The sequence of events still angers him now.
If it was galling enough to sit out six games in Sri Lanka and India, where he had hoped to massage the perception that he struggles without the English Dukes, Woakes then bruised a heel slipping on his stairs at home, and made the injury worse trying to bowl through it.
Having already missed the two-Test series against New Zealand, he was now ruled out of the first three games against India. As the normally upbeat Joe Root put it on Tuesday, it all added up to a ‘nightmare’.
Improbably, Woakes might have been helped by the rare sight of Jimmy Anderson wasting the new ball during a four-over spell that cost 20. It meant Root brought Woakes on as soon the ninth over, with the shine still visible. His introduction changed the morning’s tempo.
Together with Ollie Robinson, reliably hitting the splice from the Pavilion End, he reeled off seven successive maidens, a sequence that incorporated the wickets of Sharma and Rahul, leg-before to Robinson. When Anderson switched ends to dismiss Cheteshwar Pujara for the fourth time in the series, India were 39 for three.
By then, Woakes had been taken off with figures of 5-4-4-1 – the spell’s brevity recognition of the fact that his only red-ball cricket between the Southampton Test last year and this one has been 15 overs for Warwickshire Second XI last week.
Woakes gave a reminder of his quality, especially in conditions suited to swing bowling
Still, Root entrusted him to open after lunch as England went in search of Virat Kohli – and the plan almost worked. On 22, Kohli pushed at one that left him, and watched in relief as Rory Burns failed to react at second slip, leaving Root at first to stick out a belated right hand. The chance went begging.
Later, Woakes suffered again when Craig Overton at third slip put down Rishabh Pant. If he had forgotten the fragility of England’s catching in the cordon, they were at least making him feel at home.
But he kept chipping away, moving it this way and that, rarely missing his length. He had Ravindra Jadeja, mysteriously promoted to No 5, caught in the slips for 10, and – moments after his reprieve – Pant caught on the slog at long-off for nine.
And when Shardul Thakur threatened to ruin England’s good work with the ball by slapping a 31-ball half-century, it was Woakes who ended his fun, overturning umpire Wharf’s not-out verdict to win a hard-earned lbw.
India’s last two wickets fell in a hurry, denying him the chance of restarting his Test career with a five-for. But figures of four for 55 from 15 overs, which included 35 runs from the 19 deliveries he bowled to Thakur, were a reminder of what England have been missing.
Woakes could benefit from injuries to the likes of Stuart Broad and stake his claim
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