There is only one way to describe Chris Woakes — ‘he is a nice guy'. This is the standard reply one can expect when trying to ask Woakes' teammates, coaches, opponents and rest of the cricketing fraternity about him. But the pleasant, almost sheepish and multi-talent Woakes transformed into a colossus at Lord’s on Saturday as he stroked a brilliant unbeaten century to grind India into the ground.
The day before the match, Woakes was not even guaranteed a place in the playing XI. It was moisture that had built under the covers on Day One that probably ensured that he pipped Moeen Ali into the team as the all-rounder. On the second morning of the Test match, Woakes was still seen marking his run-up with an ankle brace. Importantly, he had been given the duties to fill the boots of Ben Stokes.
On the first day of play, Woakes swung the ball like the curve of a banana. The minute he was introduced he changed the tempo of the game. He was unplayable but walked away with only two wickets to his name. Many cricketers would have considered it job done, but Woakes was keen to prove he still had another arrow in his quiver.
Importantly, Woakes has become England's man for the crisis. In 2015, he was named England's Wisden Cricketer of the Year. But it was right from his debut for England, back in 2011 in a T20 match, that he has been thrown into the deep end. Needing 27 to win from 24 balls with three wickets in hand, he calmly guided England home over Australia in front of the parochial Adelaide Oval crowd. A couple of years earlier, in a T20 game, he had held his nerve against Andrew Flintoff while bowling the last over. He is the man for a crisis, but such is his humble personality, that he often goes unnoticed.
So when Woakes walked out to bat at 131-5 with England only 24 runs ahead, he had the responsibility of ensuring England built a significant lead. By the close of stumps, he had helped his nation gain a lead of 250 and left India praying for rain.
Just like his personality, his batting is uncomplicated. He is an old-fashioned cricketer. He is a classic England seamer, a good fielder, and an unfussy batsman. He is a type of cricketer who has learned to get the best out despite his limitations. On Saturday, he presented a straight face of the bat, played the ball late and waited for the Indian bowlers to err in line and length. In between, he had the game awareness to milk the runs from the spinners and only started to open his shoulders once the lead had crept well over a 100.
"When I went to the crease, I think we were about 20 ahead. Jonny had been playing nicely, and I think the important thing was to try to get through certain spells,” Woakes told reporters after the match.
He added, "There were some really good ones — Shami kept running in — and we just saw each spell as something to tick off, and make it difficult for the Indian bowlers to keep coming back. There wasn't a huge amount of turn there, so when the spinners were on we felt we'd done our job.
"I didn't really think of a score at any point. I was just thinking of a partnership, trying to get past the first 20 balls. I wasn't looking too much at the scoreboard in terms of what lead we needed. But the ball got a little bit softer, and it made it a little bit easier."
Despite his simple methodologies, he scored at a strike-rate of 75. By hanging back and going deep in his crease, he had opened up the scoring options behind square on the off-side. It wasn't until he had reached 70 that he played a shot in anger. This was a man that knew his role and what he had to do for the team.
Even as Woakes reached his maiden Test hundred, his celebrations told the tale of a man who is uncomplicated, dedicated and the master of simplicity.
"I didn't really have any ideas of how I was going to celebrate, and didn't really know how to — but I'm obviously just delighted. It's still a bit of a blur. It seems to go so fast — 30 seconds of raising your bat feels literally like a blink of the eye. But it's an incredible feeling."
After Sam Curran's Man of the Match performance in the first Test, Joe Root had said that the situation made them feel like they had ‘two Ben Stokes'. Now with Woakes shining with the bat and ball, Root could have the luxury of playing ‘three Ben Stokes' in Nottingham next week.