Chris Woakes proves why he is such a valuable player

In an era without James Anderson, Chris Woakes may well have been England’s premier swing bowler for a decade. And in another era, an era without Ben Stokes, Woakes may have been England’s premier seam-bowling all-rounder, too.
But sometimes it feels as if it is Woakes’ destiny to be the supporting actor to the Oscar-winning star. Despite his outstanding record – and it might be remembered he was England’s player of the year in 2020 – he had not played a Test in more than a year and, if England were at full-strength – with Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad and Stokes all available – there’s every chance Woakes would have been overlooked once again.
He deserves to be a star in his own rights. Instead, you get the impression that, when he is recognized in public, people come up and ask what it’s like to play with Stokes. You imagine Stokes doesn’t get that in reverse.
So it was pretty typical that he should end without a five-for after the first day of the LV= Insurance Test at the Kia Oval. It wasn’t that he didn’t deserve one – he surely did – but more that it seems more than a little typical that he shouldn’t quite gain the credit he is due. He has a better bowling average in England (22.47) than either Anderson (24.06) or Broad (25.78) but, aged 32, he has played only 39 Tests.
With this performance, he provided a reminder of his abilities. Generating movement that none of his colleagues, even Anderson, could match, and bowling at a slightly quicker pace, Woakes maintained a probing off-stump line and claimed four wickets to help his side gain the upper hand on the first day of this match. In English conditions at least, he really does demand selection.
The figures could have been better. There were two dropped chances off Woakes’ bowling, both of them in a slip cordon that seems to change every time you look at it. Virat Kohli, poking at a beauty that left him, one of those fortunate to survive. How like Woakes to defeat the best player and still end up without the wicket. His figures (3-19 from 11 overs at one stage) were dented by a late assault from Shardul Thakur, too.
Perhaps a reminder of Woakes’ skills was required. He hadn’t played a first-class game for more than a year – his previous one, the final Test against Pakistan last summer, finished on August 25, 2020 – and has had a frustrating time of late. Having been sidelined in Sri Lanka after being deemed a close contact of Moeen Ali, who had been diagnosed with Covid, he then found himself surplus to requirements in India. As an IPL player, he was not considered for the Test series against New Zealand and then suffered a freak heel injury, sustained when he slipped down some stairs, which kept him out of the first three Tests of this series.
Joe Root recently described Woakes’ last year as a “nightmare,” but Woakes, typically, was more phlegmatic.


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