Chris Woakes offered a timely reminder of his abilities with the red ball to help England bowl out India for 191 before Joe Root’s golden patch was ended as the tourists battled back on an enthralling first day of the fourth Test.
Woakes, who last played a Test match more than a year ago, took only six balls to get back in the groove as he dismissed Rohit Sharma in his first over and went on to take four wickets. Despite the early loss of both openers, England appeared in a dominant position until Root was bowled by Umesh Yadav shortly before the close of play to leave them 53 for three.
“It’s been a weird year for myself,” said Woakes. “But today was well worth the wait. We wouldn’t have liked to lose three tonight including Joe, but we feel we can bat well tomorrow, hopefully get a good lead and put the pressure back on them again. I’d like to think we’re on top.”
Had the day finished 10 minutes earlier there would have been no doubt. But at stumps the hosts were still 138 runs behind, and India had conjured a new dawn in the setting sun.
“Keeping England’s first innings total under control is key,” said Shardul Thakur, who had earlier rescued India’s innings by hitting the fastest Test half-century ever scored in this country, beating Ian Botham’s 35-year-old record by a single ball. “They’ve already lost three wickets, their in-form batsman is out, and I think we have an amazing opportunity to restrict them to a low total.”
For Woakes, egter, this was the silver lining to what has seemed a perpetually clouded year. After preparing to bowl himself back into some kind of rhythm, he admitted he was “a little bit shocked as to how well it came out early on”.
His first 11 overs brought three wickets and only 19 runs, and though thanks largely to Thakur his next three cost 31, even watching the ball being repeatedly smeared to the rope could not wipe the smile off his face at close of play.
“Coming back and not having played a lot of red ball cricket I was focused on doing what I do well,” Woakes said.
“I was a bit unsure how it was going to go, but I snapped into quite a nice rhythm early on and settled the nerves with the way I bowled in my first couple of overs.”
Among the things that have kept Woakes out of the side in the past year have been a shared taxi ride with Moeen Ali – who promptly tested positive for Covid, forcing Woakes into isolation – and a fall down a staircase in his own home, which led to the heel injury from which he has only just recovered. He may have felt cursed at times, but he has retained a healthy sense of perspective.
“There’s people in the world that have had a lot worse 18 months than I have," hy het gesê. “In terms of me not capitalising on the year I had last year, it feels I might have missed out a little bit. But at the same time I’m always grateful when I manage to get back in the side and hopefully showcase my skills.
“Today I was really pleased to get back. I’ll probably be a bit sore in the morning but it’ll be good to have those pains back, those bowling aches.”