“Who needs Stokes when you’ve got Woakes?” came the cry from the grandstand at Townsville’s charming Tony Ireland Stadium, on the day when England even got an unexpected first look at their third rhyming all-rounder, Ben Foakes. It was far from the day’s most inane Ben Stokes-based sledge England were sent and had at least a morsel of truth – even if both really would be handy – because Chris Woakes bowled beautifully in taking six for 58 as the callow Cricket Australia XI reached stumps on 249 for nine.
Woakes bowls as quickly as anyone England have here and looked even tastier than he did in Adelaide. At a toss conducted by the mayor, which was followed by a bit of didgeridoo action, England were asked to bowl and Woakes was pleased with their efforts on another painfully placid surface. “We had to be patient,” he said. “We felt like we had to sit in for a while and force them to make a mistake. It’s flat, and slow in pace. A Test wicket will be quicker than that.”
He was delighted that they found swing, even with the Kookaburra ball, and believes – with all the talk about whether bowlers are under- or overcooked – that he is peaking at the right time. “All the numbers are saying I’m getting close to getting cooked,” he said. “I’m pleased with where my body is at and getting overs in the legs is important.”
Having bowled five luckless overs with the new ball (which, of course, he should not get too attached to), Woakes twice struck with the first ball of later spells. The first of those spells started shortly before lunch, with CA cruising at 66 without loss, and brought four for eight in 22 balls either side of the break.
Nick Larkin, the owner of the only first-class century in CA’s side, and Jake Carder had played well enough but Woakes dismissed them in successive overs to leave the lunch score 82 for two. Larkin was caught very well by James Vince in the gully, above head height and diving, while Carder was caught behind fending.
Woakes’s next wicket was caught behind too but by a different keeper. In the over after lunch a Woakes delivery scuttled and caught Jonny Bairstow on his left middle finger, causing bruising that forced him from the field fearing worse. After 10 minutes of treatment and changing, Foakes appeared to stand in. This would not have been possible just a few weeks ago – the MCC overturned the rule preventing 12th men from acting as wicketkeeper in October.
Foakes was out there for 11 overs across 50 minutes, as mild panic calmed about Bairstow’s condition – if England are to stand a chance in Stokes’s absence, they must keep ship-shape the keeper and remaining all-rounders, Moeen Ali and Woakes, who said he had not even been concerned enough about the injury to check on the condition of his room-mate on tour. Fifty minutes was long enough for Foakes, who might well have played 30 Tests by now were he Australian, to tidily take Ryan Gibson. Woakes’s tight line earned that wicket and he had Jason Sangha lbw two balls later, too.
Some resistance followed from Matt Short and Harry Nielsen but Woakes made the latter his fifth wicket, again caught well by Vince in the gully (where he would sharply take Gurinder Sandhu late on to give Stuart Broad a wicket, too). Woakes’s sixth was Simon Milenko, who looked good in Adelaide but was at sea here. He had his leg stump removed by the new ball’s first delivery. Both Nielsen and Milenko had been ruffled by Woakes’s short ball.
Moeen saw his first competitive action of the tour in the 11th over of the match and proved capable of plugging an end without producing many chances, while his side caused him no obvious discomfort. Mason Crane was less tidy but recovered well and had the captain, Short, dropped twice off his bowling. On 25, he cut hard to Mark Stoneman close at point, with the fielder doing well just to get a hand to it, but Joe Root’s opportunity when he had 36 was far simpler at slip. Straight in, straight out. Slip to the spinner is another hole left by Stokes’s absence.
Root did eventually snaffle Short, who poked Craig Overton to second slip promptly after bringing up a neat 118-ball half-century. Crane took some raucously received tap late on from Dan Fallins, with the final over of the day slogged for 16. Alastair Cook, short on runs, might privately have been relieved that CA ended the day nine down.
Even as Jake Ball’s comeback from injury continued by bowling off a few paces in the nets, Overton – who had earlier had Will Pucovski caught behind – took another step towards the Test side. While he has no great pace, he has an action that is repeatable and reminiscent of Tim Bresnan and a swift bouncer, and he has proven mighty tricky to score off since finding the right length in Adelaide last week – here, his 18 overs cost just 32. England have really found one if his impact is anything like Bresnan’s in 2010-11.