Warwickshire v Hampshire, Edgbaston, 1st day August 18, 2011

Woakes stars with seven-wicket haul

George Dobell at Edgbaston

Warwickshire 96 for 4 v Hampshire 141

One hundred years ago, a charismatic all-rounder named Frank Foster made a huge impression on Warwickshire cricket.

Foster was invited by a desperate committee to captain a side in disarray and, with his incisive left-arm swing bowling and swashbuckling batting, responded by becoming the youngest man to lead a side to the Championship title. He was just 22 and it's a record that remains to this day.

Now, on the anniversary of the club's first success, it is the turn of Chris Woakes to take centre stage at Edgbaston. Woakes, also just 22, may not have assumed the captaincy just yet but, with bat and ball, he's playing a huge role in taking Warwickshire to an almost equally surprising Championship title. Woakes may just turn out to be the best all-rounder the club have produced since Foster.

Foster's career didn't reach the heights it should have done. Although his leg-theory bowling played a large role in England's Ashes success in the winter of 1911-12, the combination of alcoholism and mental illness proved disastrous. Foster never played after the age of 25 and died - alone, in poverty and disgrace - in an asylum. It's a story beautifully told by Robert Brook in his excellent new biography of Foster - The Fields Were Sudden Bare. It makes Jude The Obscure seem joyful.

There will surely be a happier ending to the Woakes story. While he may possess more than a little of the Foster brilliance, Woakes lacks the demons. He is reliable. He is solid. He is professional and disciplined. More than once, Ashley Giles has been heard to say he wishes he could clone Woakes. In time, no doubt, someone at Loughborough will be charged with doing just that.

It was not that Woakes bowled outrageously well on the first day of this game. More that he didn't bowl badly. Not at all. Not even a ball. He pressed and pressed at Hampshire's batting, banging away on an off stump line, moving the ball a fraction this way or that and waiting for the error. Few men were dismissed by unplayable balls, but the sense of stifling pressure Woakes built up was suffocating. It's what McGrath used to do. And Lillee. And Garner. While it's flattering Woakes a fair bit to compare him to those great cricketers, he certainly is becoming a very fine player.

Let's be clear: this is not a poor pitch. The bounce is even, the assistance to seamers only moderate. But Woakes is masterful in such conditions and, against a batting line-up lacking confidence, he was murderously effective.

He was well supported, too. Boyd Rankin and Rikki Clarke bowled superbly, with sustained pace and aggression, while Warwickshire's catching behind the wicket remains excellent. Clarke's diving effort to remove Dimitri Mascarenhas - slashing wildly - was the highlight of the day. No-one has more than Clarke's 30 catches in the campaign.

Warwickshire came into the season as one of the bookies' tips to suffer relegation. Instead, however, they must now be considered genuine title contenders. They have won 10 of their last 14 Championship games across the last two season and, unless Hampshire can stage a major recover on day two of this game, they are well poised to make it 11 out of 15.

A huge part of that success has been the form of Woakes. Perhaps he lacks the pace to prosper at the highest level. Perhaps, in this golden era for English cricket, he will simply find other very fine cricketers in his way as they jostle for inclusion in the national side. Perhaps international pitches will lessen his potency.

But, at this level, and on such surfaces, Woakes really is a very fine cricketer. Having played just seven-and-a-half Championship games this season, he already has 45 wickets at an average of only 17 and 406 runs at an average of 45. It doesn't take a mathematical genius to work out that, should Woakes be able to sustain such form across a whole campaign, he'd be close to achieving the double. No-one has managed that since Franklyn Stephenson in 1988.

International calls may prevent Woakes from fulfilling that ambition. Indeed, they may hinder Warwickshire's Championship ambitions. Already missing Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott, they will lose Rankin and William Porterfield to Ireland next week and possibly Woakes to England, too. Their 'bench strength' will be tested to the limit.

This game isn't over, either. Hampshire actually started pretty well. Keith Barker, inexplicably given the new ball, was punished for a series of boundaries as he struggled with his length. But when Jimmy Adams, driving loosely at a wide one, edged to gully, it precipitated a sharp decline as Hampshire's entire top six departed for the addition of just 22 runs.

At one stage Hampshire lost four wickets without scoring as Woakes found Michael Carberry's edge with a good one demanding a shot that was angled across the left hander, before Liam Dawson left a straight one, James Vince pulled directly to the fielder and Michael Bates steered to gully as if providing catching practise. It wasn't the most convincing of strokes from a fellow whose batting is under some scrutiny at present.

A stand of 64 between Sean Ervive and Dimitri Mascarenhas provided some hope for Hampshire but, when Woakes persuaded one back between Ervine's bat and pad, Hampshire fell away again. It says much about Hampshire's batting that there have been only three seven-wicket hauls in an innings of Division One cricket this season and Hampshire have been the batting side on each occasion. They don't lack talent or good intention, but somehow the sum of the parts is less than the individual elements. They look worryingly flimsy.

Warwickshire didn't have things all their own way in reply. Ian Westwood was trapped by an inswinger, Porterfield pulled to long-leg and Shivnarine Chanderpaul's debut lasted just five deliveries after he was drawn into poking at one that left him and edged to slip.

Varun Chopra steadied the ship with his sixth score over 50 in the campaign and passed 1,000 first-class and Championship runs for the season in the process. But, when he was caught on the crease by a good inswinger, it provided Hampshire with a chance to fight their way back into the game on the second day. Bad light caused an early close moments later.

"It's a pretty good pitch," Woakes said afterwards. "There's a bit of help off the pitch, but there's no way it's a 14 wickets a day sort of pitch.

"We bowled really well as a unit, but it was just my turn to take the wickets. I've bowled better this season and not taken many wickets, but today they played a few loose shots. Really, I just put the ball in those good areas, probed around and had some luck."

It was a typically modest comment. In Woakes, Warwickshire have a gem.