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Chris Woakes in line to return as Birmingham Bears battle lengthy injury list

Allrounder has rarely played for Bears in recent seasons but they are pleading his case to make injury comeback against Kent

David Hopps
David Hopps
Chris Woakes' appearances for Birmingham Bears have been sporadic  •  Getty Images

Chris Woakes' appearances for Birmingham Bears have been sporadic  •  Getty Images

It can be easier to get a prisoner freed from Guantanamo Bay than an England-contracted cricketer released to play for their county, but Birmingham Bears have been pleading their case for Chris Woakes to be made available to bolster their injury-ravaged side for the final Blast quarter-final against Kent at Canterbury on Friday night.
Woakes has not played Test cricket for more than a year so England will be viewing his recovery from a heel injury with particular scrutiny, especially if one of their Headingley seamers suffers as much as a scratch during the third Test against India.
He is named in Birmingham's 13 after coming through unscathed from bowling 25 overs during a 2nd XI four-day match against Worcestershire at New Road. How optimistic that turns out to be remains to be seen.
It can be safely assumed that another four overs in the hurly burly of a Blast quarter-final would not be on most physios' preferred rehabilitation programmes, but England's decision whether to allow Woakes' inclusion will say much about the status of the Blast less than a week after the domineering new kid in town, the Hundred, completed its first season.
For Mark Robinson, Warwickshire's first-team coach, it was just the latest challenge since he returned to county cricket at the start of the year. "I'd forgotten the relentless nature of it," he said. "But to be at stage of this season with two competitions still to win is where you want to be as a club."
Birmingham are certainly needy. Olly Stone and Henry Brookes are long-term absentees among their pace bowlers, Oliver Hannon-Dalby has had another setback, and Carlos Brathwaite, an integral part of their side in the group stages, has flown off to the Caribbean Premier League. And if Ryan Sidebottom ever hankered after adding to his solitary T20 outing, made last month, he is injured too.
To encapsulate the Bears' constant run of misfortune, Dan Mousley, their promising spin-bowling batter, returned from a broken finger and duly smashed another one in fielding practice.
"He has torn a finger to bits," Robinson sighed. "It's a bad injury. It was just fielding practice, really innocuous, and a real shame. We have had to overcome some setbacks this year with missed personnel. I suppose the advantage is that we've been there before. We know what our best team looks like and we've never really put it out. But when you play for Warwickshire - or Birmingham - you never are the underdogs. That's what the message will be."
One intriguing match-up will be the clash between the Bears batter Chris Benjamin, who has just been awarded a new three-year contract at Warwickshire, and Kent's New Zealand quick Adam Milne who have just spent the last month as team-mates at Birmingham Phoenix.
"Adam and I had a few jokes about it throughout the Hundred," Benjamin said. "I kept telling him I wanted to face him in the nets just to get used to his action. But I only faced him a handful of times because the tournament was so busy, so we'll have to see."
Robinson watched the Hundred, but said he was "more invested in my own players than the teams". That even amounted to messaging Brathwaite, at Manchester Originals, to ask why on earth Sam Hain was not getting a game.
"One of the best white-ball cricketers in the country," Robinson reflected. Hain played only once. At least that reduced the risk of him being added to Robinson's catalogue of injury woes. And as Tom Abell underlined at Taunton, in his quarter-final destruction of Lancashire, once can be enough.

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps