Woakes makes case as Rankin deliberates
Surrey 109 for 1 (Burns 53*) trail Warwickshire 571 (Troughton 119, Woakes 118, Patel 76) by 462 runs
Chris Woakes' name is unlikely to be among those announced in England's squad for the second Test against South Africa on Sunday morning, but the 23-year continues to produce performances, both with bat and ball, that must prove hard to ignore for the national selectors.
Here at Edgbaston, against an attack containing five men with wickets in international cricket, Woakes recorded his second century in successive games, his sixth in first-class cricket and his fifth in the championship. That means that, aged 23, he has scored as many or more championship centuries as specialist batsmen such as Eoin Morgan (three), William Porterfield (two) or Jonny Bairstow (also five).
A comparison of figures with other all-rounders is illuminating, too. Woakes' first-class batting (36.34) and bowling (24.33) averages are significantly better than Stuart Broad's (24.81 and 28.44 respectively) and Tim Bresnan's (28.38 and 31.01). While such statistics always carry caveats, they are not to be fully dismissed, either: Woakes, remember, took 6-45 in just his second ODI. Unusually for a man coming in at No. 8, he has the highest batting average in the Warwickshire side and some at Edgbaston feel that he could, in time, develop into a better batsman than bowler: a reverse of Tom Cartwright.
Woakes added 122 for the seventh wicket with Jim Troughton and 127 for the ninth with Jeetan Patel as Warwickshire amassed a daunting 571. While Troughton, who also scored a century in the previous game and, having scored 50 in his first nine championship innings of the season, has scored 333 in his next four, produced a display of admirable application and Patel thrashed in enjoyable fashion, it was Woakes that caught the eye. Many young batsmen can drive and pull efficiently - though few with the elegance of Woakes - and one or two can block and leave with fine judgement, but very few can combine both disciplines well enough to suggest they could prosper at the highest level.
Woakes not only left well, but produced some fine strokes: he hooked Stuart Meaker, perhaps the quickest bowler in English cricket at present, as well as anyone, late cut Jonathan Lewis delicately and he skipped down the pitch to drive Murali Kartik through the covers on several occasions. It was a fine innings and, from 307 for six, he helped Warwickshire post the highest score by any side in either division so far this championship season.
This was a profligate performance in the field from Surrey. The pitch is flat, certainly, but it was not a different size and there were few excuses for conceding 60 extras. The tally of 17 no-balls (34 runs) was particularly excessive and there were times when they appeared unrecognisable from the team that started the season with such a promising display against Sussex. In many ways they are, of course, and it would, perhaps, be wise to suspend judgment on a club still struggling to find equilibrium in the aftermath of some chastening weeks.
But it was still a disappointing performance and the worst offender was Chris Jordan. Jordan is a cricketer of rich potential. He has pace with the ball, talent with the bat and obvious heart and strength. But he is aged 23 now and the same words might have been written about him in 2007. It is hard to see any progress.
Perhaps the nadir of Surrey's performance came when Meaker lost sight of a ball clubbed towards him by Patel and allowed it to trickle over the long-on boundary a few feet to his right. The bowler, Zander de Bruyn, looked underwhelmed.
Still, the day could have been worse for Surrey. Chasing 422 just to avoid the follow-on, they should have lost a wicket to the first ball of their reply. Rory Burns was unfortunate enough to receive a perfect outswinger that took his outside egde, but fortunate enough that Richard Johnson, deputising for the injured Tim Ambrose, put down as easy a chance as a wicketkeeper could hope to see. On such a flat pitch, such moments could prove costly for a club hoping to win the championship.
Burns took advantage of the opportunity to compile an increasingly assured half-century. Despite losing Zafar Ansari to a beauty that nipped back into the left hander form Woakes, Burns and the uncharacteristically confident Arun Harinath added 83 to boost Surrey's hopes of securing a draw.
Rikki Clarke was, by some distance, the quickest of the Warwickshire attack, but it was encouraging to see a return to action from Boyd Rankin. Only a year ago, Marcus Trescothick was moved to rate Rankin the most hostile bowler he had faced in the 2011 season and, but for injury, Rankin might have been pressing for England contention. His first-class strike-rate - he takes a wicket every 44.3 balls on average - remains quite exceptional.
But Rankin has some tough decisions to make in the next few weeks. He is out of contract at the end of the season and, while Warwickshire are keen for him to stay, they are reluctant to share him. They would prefer that he retired from international cricket - Rankin is Ireland's strike bowler - and that he concentrated on county duty. The feeling at Edgbaston is that Rankin often returns from international duty carrying an injury. It leaves Rankin with a desperately tricky decision and provides another reminder of the challenges facing Irish cricket as they seek to break into the top tier of international teams.