Chris Woakes underpinned his reputation as a young paceman of rich promise while giving West Indies a brief but horribly uncomfortable ride at the Racecourse Ground yesterday. Exploiting near-perfect conditions for seam and swing bowling and operating at a lively lick, he struck four damaging blows with the new ball.
Aged just 20, Woakes has moved into the international picture on the strength of taking 42 championship wickets for Warwickshire last season at fewer than 21 runs apiece. England have taken note – popping him into their provisional squad of 30 for this summer's Twenty20 World Cup and pushing him into the MCC team that played Durham in the campaign curtain-raiser earlier this month.
Woakes looked comfortable enough at Lord's without pulling up any trees. Yesterday, though, and in front of the watching head coach Andy Flower, he appeared almost unplayable at times as West Indies were again found wanting against the moving ball on a green-tinged strip. Rolled over for 146 by Essex's raw young attack at Chelmsford last weekend, they sank to 76 for 4 against the Lions and will hope for conditions a little more Caribbean-like come next Wednesday's first Test.
A dazzlingly low sun, of all things, eventually halted play for good 15 minutes early. But, in fairness to the tourists, they had the rough end of the deal all round yesterday. Losing the toss was bad enough but then, having seen Lendl Simmons succumb just before a second break for rain, they were forced back into the firing line after the pitch had spent several hours sweating under its covering.
Whatever the circumstances, though, West Indies have a real problem at the top of the order – and not just because their captain and crackerjack opener Chris Gayle is still on IPL duty in South Africa and will not join his team until Monday. But who partners him 48 hours later will take some deciding.
Devon Smith is the man in possession. During the recent series in the Caribbean, however, Smith reached 50 just once in six innings – on the flattest of flat pitches – and he has done nothing of note so far this trip. Yesterday, the left-hander became Woakes' second victim, albeit some five hours after his likely rival for a Lord's opening berth, Simmons, had perished.
Already dropped, low down at second slip by Samit Patel off Sajid Mahmood, Simmons paid the penalty for diving at a ball which was well pitched up and then swung away just enough to find an outside edge. As for Smith, a perfect off-cutter accounted for him with Tim Ambrose taking the second of two comfortable catches.
The West Indies coach John Dyson was critical of his team's batting at Chelmsford, although he did point out that most of those on view against Essex were inexperienced. Here, two of the side's more senior hands, Denesh Ramdin and Ramnaresh Sarwan, were unable to keep Woakes at bay. Mind you, Sarwan did his best to try to unsettle the youngster and messed up just when it looked as though he might have succeeded.
Ramdin, captain as well as keeper in Gayle's absence, fell while trying to defend. Playing back, he snicked low to third slip from high off the bat and departed to a smart catch by Ian Bell. As for Sarwan, he motored to 31 but, having just clipped and cut Woakes for two crisp boundaries went for a big drive outside off-stump and succeeded only in edging into the slip cordon.