Chris Woakes has 10 first-class centuries, including a Test one against India, and made his debut seven years ago at No 6, so it’s not a huge surprise he was the star of England’s fantastic run-chase at Old Trafford.
But for a player who has been badly short of batting form to come out and play like he did — against that Pakistan attack in those fourth-day conditions with England in big trouble — was exceptional. Woakes and Jos Buttler got the tempo absolutely spot on and left Azhar Ali with nowhere to go.
Woakes is a very important member of this England team. And what he has done now is put himself at the very top of England’s crowded pecking order when it comes to selection for the second Test at the Ageas Bowl on Thursday.
Chris Woakes’ batting heroics helped them seal a thrilling win in the first Test against Pakistan
And that’s quite something when you consider he is competing for a place with two bowlers who have almost 1,100 wickets between them — Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad — and two of extreme pace and potential, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood.
Woakes’s problem is that, because his home and away form are so contrasting, you are almost talking about two different players. At home, he averages 22 with the ball and 35 with the bat. Away, it’s 19 with the bat and 50 with the ball.
Perhaps that’s why Woakes is sometimes overlooked, because England should be looking to build a side who can win in all conditions home and away.
Woakes’ sixth-wicket stand of 139 with wicketkeeper Jos Buttler proved the turning point
That’s why I was wondering ahead of this Test whether Woakes would have to be the man who stood down at Old Trafford if Ben Stokes had been fully fit to bowl — because you should always be looking to include a bowler of real pace.
And if you have Anderson and Broad in your side, as well as a fit Stokes, and you’re trying to find that extreme pace, whether that comes from Archer, Wood or Olly Stone, then Woakes can be an obvious fall-guy.
If you were picking a side just to win every game in England, then Woakes would be one of the first names on your team-sheet because his record in England is better than Broad’s and Anderson’s. And he’s a better batsman than the big two as well.
Chris acknowledges this. He’s a very open lad and will come on interviews and admit, ‘Yes, I’ve got to work to get my stats better away from home’.
That’s different to someone such as Broad who, as we saw at the start of this Test summer, will stand his ground and does not admit to any kind of failing. That’s not a criticism of Stuart, it’s just the differing approaches of the two.
Woakes celebrates taking the wicket of Pakistan’s Mohammed Rizwan during day two
There’s no doubt Darren Gough did excellent work with Woakes during his spell as England bowling consultant last winter in New Zealand.
Gough concentrated on getting Woakes to understand when he has to up his pace overseas and to assess conditions.
He told him to try to bowl aggressively at a fuller length and says Woakes was great to work with. Crucially, my old team-mate says Woakes was like a sponge in soaking up information and still wants to get better. And that’s good to see from a 31-year-old with a decent career behind him. He was hanging on every word from an England great.
There were decent signs, particularly in how Woakes bowled in Johannesburg against South Africa last winter, that he is making progress with the Kookaburra ball, but we won’t know for sure until he performs in the sub-continent or Australia.
Woakes showed how important he is to this team and why he should never be taken for granted
So in an era when we will eventually be looking for a replacement for Anderson, Woakes could fit the bill — but he still has work to do. And that includes with the bat because Australia will definitely go after him with the short ball. I was surprised on Saturday that Pakistan didn’t do the same thing, because I thought at one stage Azhar was saving Naseem Shah for when Woakes came in after he had hit him on the head in the first innings. But Pakistan didn’t go after him at all.
One thing certain is that Woakes is an absolutely top guy. When there’s a rain delay and we need something to do, we will often come up with trying to pick various XIs and, whenever we select a Nice People XI, Woakes is everyone’s captain.
Is he almost too nice for his own good? Is it easier for the captain to leave Woakes out?
That certainly shouldn’t be the case and I don’t think that’s why he is ever left out. It is simply competition for places and the fact England don’t want a ‘samey’ attack. I always liked it as captain when a player was sore if they were left out.
Woakes is so honest, frank and will do anything for anyone. There is no ego about him and he doesn’t seek the limelight. He is perfectly happy with everyone else having it and, whenever he’s left out, he will do everything he can to help the team.
That’s why this first Test win would have been a popular one within the squad, because Woakes and Buttler are two of the most well-regarded players in it. They are central to everything the team are doing.
Duncan Fletcher used to talk about the ‘critical mass’ of a side when he was coach and Buttler, for sure, is in that inner core of decision-makers. Woakes is a big part of the right critical mass, too.
Woakes looks certain to play in the second Test now, that’s for certain, particularly after the sad news that Stokes is out of the rest of the series for personal reasons. That means England will need all their available seamers, including Ollie Robinson, who was added to the squad on Saturday.
The bottom line is that perhaps we have all taken Woakes a little for granted at times. This victory was a reminder that we should never do that.