Whirlwind Woakes makes case to replace Stokes
Warwickshire 313 (Weighell 4-97) and 15 for 2 lead Durham 190 (Woakes 9-36) by 138 runs
When you replace Ben Stokes in an England Test side, you are not just replacing a fine allrounder, but must feel as if you are stepping in for a force of nature. Every step Stokes takes is a story in the making; every moment can become an act of heroism or occasionally one of folly. Here is a player so obviously combative that he makes headlines happen. Further information about his anticipated knee operation will be watched with trepidation in cricketing households throughout the land.
Chris Woakes is a pro's pro, too unassuming to attract a rush of celebrity headlines, although on this occasion he would deserve to be buried in them. Timing is everything and at Edgbaston, hours after his emergency call up to replace Stokes in the second Test, he justified his selection in emphatic style. A career-best 9 for 36 against Durham in the most destructive display of his career was an ideal send-off as he prepared to head north to Chester-le-Street.
Woakes briefly was also a force of nature, at the top of his pace and swinging the ball with relentless accuracy. There was an unexpectedly severe tornado in Birmingham in 2005 and here was another one as rhythm fell upon him and he tore in, utterly attuned to his task.
His figures were the best by a Warwickshire bowler since Jack Bannister took 10-41 against the Combined Services at the old Mitchell & Butler ground in 1959. Eric Hollies also took all 10 for Warwickshire in a Championship game in 1946 - the summer he gained everlasting fame by dismissing Don Bradman for a duck in his final Test..
"I wouldn't say I felt in great rhythm with the new ball but after lunch I got the wicket of Mark Stoneman and after that felt really good - as good as I have all year," he said. "It's amazing when you are in rhythm like that you don't really think about anything. I'm not sure I have ever bowled as well as that.
"England was obviously in the back of my mind and going into the game you do feel a little bit of added pressure to prove yourself but I am always desperate to do well in a Warwickshire shirt."
Woakes is the sort of talented, unostentatious cricketer whose career has played out without the glare of attention. He would make an excellent spy, unobtrusively carrying out street-side surveillance, gabardine collar turned up, nobody noticing him arrive or leave. When he led the Warwickshire side off, raising the ball aloft, however much he tried to look brave and fulfilled, his modesty shone through.
But there has surely been no better pace-bowling display this season. Once he had put a moderate four overs with the new ball behind him, not quite lining himself up against Durham's left-handers, he bowled with conviction and confidence. This was Woakes how not everybody envisages him: insistent, inspired, his fullish length constantly dangerous, the ball swinging consistently, outside edges rasped.
Durham's top order was dismantled with 4 for 15 in nine overs, even as the skies cleared in mid-afternoon. He was just as inspirational against the tail in an evening spell of 5 for 7 in 7.4 overs, James Weighell somehow managing to pull him for six along the way. He was on the sort of roll with the ball that Stokes has occasionally summoned with the bat.
The Edgbaston pitch was reported for uneven bounce against Somerset 10 days ago, but there was nothing untoward with this surface: Woakes was right to observe that it has produced an excellent balance between bat and ball. Neither will many Durham batsmen be berating themselves for the manner of their dismissal.
Two were bowled: Stoneman, Woakes' first victim, done for length as he stabbed the ball on; Jack Burnham misjudging a leave. Paul Collingwood was drawn into a one-handed drive to point, Scott Borthick the first of three edges to wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose in classical style.
In his final spell, Michael Richardson and Ryan Pringle were undone by the best deliveries of all, leaping away. Weighell was clutched by Andrew Umeed at third slip and it all ended when Barry McCarthy lifted him to deep square leg in the time-honoured last-wicket style. That last pair, though, had negotiated the single that took Durham past the follow-on before adding 27 to maintain a fingerhold on the match.
Woakes is not just preparing to step in for Stokes, he is replacing him on his home ground. Durham, in financial straits, can be forgiven if they regard the exchange as less than a marketing department's dream. They would doubtless prefer to announce the change at the last-minute, rather like they did for Sunset Boulevard at the Coliseum Theatre last month when Glenn Close was indisposed and some star-struck members of the audience demanded a refund before the understudy Ria Jones received one of the longest standing ovations ever seen on the London stage.
"I am obviously a totally different character to Ben," Woakes said. "He is a bit of a redhead with fire in his belly. I do have fire in my belly, I just show it in a different way. Ben is that X-factor cricketer, maybe I am a bit more reliable and give the team a bit more stability. But I would class that as a bit of an X-factor spell today."
His career figures compare favourably with Stokes with bat and ball, he is averaging 50 with the bat this season and, on this evidence, he is in much better bowling form. England will not be harmed by his presence, although he might find himself batting at No. 8, with Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali shifting one place up the order.
Warwickshire will send him on his way with best wishes, although it might stymie their Championship challenge if, as he might, he plays all summer. Josh Poysden, a legspinner, replaces him for the last two days of the match. Nobody could claim he was a like-for-like replacement, as per regulations, but how many England allrounders in this form exist?
Oddly, Woakes' day ended with frustration. With four overs to bat, and a first-innings lead of 123, Warwickshire sent him in for a swing, calculating that he might make more than Poysden would down the order on the third day. It was playing the rules, as Woakes admitted, and it all ended unhappily as he fell third ball, stumps splayed, unconquerable no longer.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps