Woakes’ four-for keeps England’s day together

Woakes' four-for maintains the unity of England

The first day of the fourth Ashes Test at Emirates Old Trafford was a great opportunity for Chris Woakes to stand out as a cricket player who is frequently shunned from the spotlight.

James Anderson returned to the XI for what would have been his final appearance on his home field, and Stuart Broad became just the second seamer to reach 600 Test wickets. However, Woakes was the star of the show with 4 for 52, giving England a lead in this game. 

Australia’s 299 for 8 means that neither team can say with any degree of certainty that they are in control, a common issue throughout this gripping series. But Woakes’ performance made sure that Australia was never able to take an excessive lead.

Broad bounced out Travis Head five balls after tea to hit his milestone after entering this game with 598 career dismissals. Usman Khawaja was then caught lbw by Broad. He has become the go-to bowler in a continually changing attack thanks to his 18 dismissals this series; he is the only England bowler to have started all four games. 

This has allowed him to compensate for Anderson’s struggles, since Anderson has taken just three wickets so far. The 40-year-old’s failure today was solely due to bad luck, as he repeatedly beat the bat and had one inside edge evade the stumps. However, his current series average—which is a staggering 89.66—is staggering.

However, Woakes’s performance kept everything in place. The Warwickshire all rounder assumed control of the attack after his impressive performance in last week’s victory at Headingley, which reduced Australia’s lead to 2-1, cemented his position as a key player. 

After a captivating start, David Warner was dismissed for 32 before Woakes made sure Mitchell Marsh, Cameron Green, and Alex Carey’s batting order had false starts.

Indeed, the Marsh wicket seemed to be the most important. After reaching 51, the Western Australian was positioned for an edge, which Jonny Bairstow expertly took. 

The wicketkeeper, who had a messy day behind the stumps, reached out with his right hand and scooped up the ball while it was fully extended after swerving to his left. Marsh had reached fifty against England for the third time in the third Test, but this was the first occasion that he had not reached three figures.

It was one thing for Ben Stokes to win his fifth toss of the season, but when he decided to bowl, he followed up the seduction of luck with a flirty wink at the past. At Old Trafford, no team has ever called right, pushed the opposition in, and come out on top in an Ashes Test.

Stokes will be pleased that his team has made as many strides as they have on a continuous first day of 83 overs after he stated before the game that his team needed to go all-out over the following five days given the dreadful weather forecast. The tourists will think back on missed opportunities to take control of this match from the beginning, even though they can take pride in keeping Australia in check.

Before Warner was removed for an interesting 32, they were 61 for 1 after 14 overs. When Mark Wood had 120 for 2, Steve Smith was lbw for 41. When Head (48) and Marnus Labuschagne (50), who had just reached his maiden half-century of the series, were in the middle of a comeback, both were dismissed in the space of 23 deliveries for the addition of just six runs, leaving Australia 189 for 5.

Then, on 65, the largest stand of the innings so far was broken when Cameron Green was out by Woakes’ lbw catch. Woakes then dismissed Marsh four balls later to make it 255 for 7. The skipper, Pat Cummins, joined the seemingly ready Mitchell Starc at the crease after Carey’s edge in an attempt to dismiss Woakes for the second consecutive innings.

Warner’s spot in the starting lineup was in doubt until Australia decided to dismiss Todd Murphy and bring Green back in, but the left-hander started the match with the energy of someone determined to repay that faith. A loosener from Broad that was sliced to the extra cover boundary for four was the first pitch of the inning.

In a Test featuring Anderson, England did not hand him the opening over for the first time in 15 years as they chose to bowl first. It made sense to deviate from tradition given the histories of Broad and Warner. This peculiarity made up for any perceived insult because Anderson started proceedings from the James Anderson End.

Warner appeared to be in fantastic form, especially when he effortlessly whipped a short ball off Woakes through square leg for his third goal. By the time Woakes bowled at Warner from over the wicket, and Bairstow took a proper catch off of him, Warner had been out, and a base had been laid for Smith and Labuschagne to bat at their own speed.

When Woakes’ first ball was hooked over Wood at backward square leg on the first ball of his 59-run stand, Smith seized the role of the aggressor. He might not have been sure whether to accept the catch if the Durham quick had not charged in. Instead, it made one bouncing motion before slamming into the billboards.

Before Wood made up for his overzealousness by striking five times after the break, both batters would last till lunch. To work a delivery to the leg side, Smith veered off the mark. However, extra speed through the air and nip off the surface caused him to be caught in front of the off stump. 

When Stokes requested a DRS review, the impact with the pad and projected path of the ball into the stumps proved Smith needed to be sent out. Umpire Joel Wilson did not make the ruling on the field.

The television umpire had to give a similar confirmation for Labuschagne’s dismissal. Wilson once more rejected the on-field appeal, but this time it was because Moeen Ali had hit the right-hander who had advanced with a pitch. Although too much turning may have been the problem, it was confirmed that the top of the leg stump would have been hit when it came down.

It was understandable that Labuschagne felt dejected. After a disappointing first six innings by his high standards, he toiled for 114 deliveries to reach his half-century, his 26th Test score of fifty or more. Between his fourth and fifth boundary, which was timed crisply through cover, ending a runless stretch of 20 balls, his patience to make this knock count was obvious in the 62 deliveries.

With grace, Head was making his way to 48 at the other end despite taking punches from Wood under the armpit with the second ball and on the helmet with the third ball after a ricochet off his shoulder when he was on two.

He was successful in getting England to go short to him following some expertly guided boundaries through the leg side. He then came out limp to meet a short ball from Broad with an uncontrolled hook behind square after reaching tea on 47 from 62. From his great leg, Joe Root scampered around to take a deft catch.

The missed opportunity to run out Marsh on 35 from Stokes, when the latter was sent back by Green, could have been the end for England even though they did not lose any obvious opportunities. 

When he hit 118 in the first innings at Headingley, Marsh appeared to be in the same frame of mind. A player in this kind of form could have been the only one to have been able to make anything of Woakes’ delivery in the 63rd over after he had already hit seven fours and a beautiful straight six off Moeen.

The most stunning moment of the day was witnessed by those in the stands when a little movement followed by a seam away drew the slightest tickling. 

Since everyone is aware of Bairstow’s difficulties this summer, it was heartening to see how his teammates rallied around him after making one of the series’ best catches. The audience was also very enthusiastic, but they weren’t able to completely appreciate what Bairstow had accomplished until the incredible feat of his one-handed take was replayed on the big screen.