England recall shows Chris Woakes' importance to Joe Root's team, but also their strength in depth

The seamer will replace Toby Roland-Jones, who has enjoyed a blistering start to his Test career

Chris Stocks
Thursday 24 August 2017 18:22
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Chris Woakes is a key cog in England's winning machine
Chris Woakes is a key cog in England's winning machine

The fact England can drop a man with a Test average of 19.35 in Toby Roland-Jones shows the strength of the bowling department. Captain Joe Root, though, has urged his fringe batsmen to use this second Test against West Indies to prove themselves ahead of the Ashes.

Roland-Jones has guaranteed his passage to Australia this winter after three fine performances, including 14 wickets, since making his Test debut against South Africa at The Oval late last month.

The Middlesex bowler will miss out in Leeds after the decision to recall Chris Woakes, now fully recovered from the side strain he sustained during the Champions Trophy in June, in order to give him time in the middle ahead of the Ashes.

There is no doubt Woakes is in England’s strongest XI when we look ahead to that first Test against Australia at the Gabba in November.

Tom Westley retains his place after impressing at Edgbaston

But the same cannot be said of Tom Westley or Dawid Malan, the men occupying positions No3 and five in England’s batting order and who also made their debuts alongside Roland-Jones at The Oval.

Both have scored one half-century in five innings.

Something of more substance will be required over the final two Tests of the summer here and at Lord’s to convince England they are the men to take to Australia.

Mark Stoneman, Alastair Cook’s 12th opening partner since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012, also has much to prove after making just eight in his only innings on debut at Edgbaston last week.

England won that first-day Test in this country by an innings and 209 runs inside three days. The result of this second match of the series may be just as heavily one-sided.

But in terms of the bigger picture of the winter, it is the runs the three newcomers require that will surely be the most important narrative in Leeds over the coming days.

“I think the only message for those guys is to go out there and take this opportunity,” said Root

“I think the only message for those guys is to go out there and take this opportunity,” said Root. “It’s another week of hard Test cricket, where, of course, guys are under different pressures wherever they bat in the order. And if they want to nail down those spots they have to deal with that and if they get in make it really count.”

That’s exactly what Root and Cook did at Edgbaston, the pair’s 248-run third-wicket stand on the opening day setting up a position of dominance England never ceded.

Root’s 136 continued his fine run of form since taking over the Test captaincy from Cook this summer. It’s a hot streak, though, that actually stretches back to the second Test against Bangladesh at Dhaka last October – 11 matches ago.

The Yorkshireman has scored 50-plus scores in each of those Tests and needs one more on his home ground of Headingley to draw level with the record sequence of 12 currently held by South Africa’s AB De Villiers.

“I’m aware of the record, yes,” admits Root. “I wish it was hundreds and not fifties. I suppose you go out there and just try and score as many runs as you can every time anyway.

“It’s not going to make a difference of how I’m going to approach this week. If anything, it’s nice to know that over a period of time I’ve been quite consistent in terms of helping us get decent scores.”

Root is hoping to take his good form back home to Headingley

Headingley may be home for Root but he has taken little comfort from that fact in recent years given it is a ground where he averages just 25 in comparison to his career average of 54.

A hundred may have been scored in his first Test here against New Zealand in 2013, but just 44 runs have come in three matches since.

“You turn up at every ground and some grounds you have particularly good records at and others you don’t,” said Root. “Every time is an opportunity to either extend that good record or put right what’s wrong. This is just a great chance to come home and hopefully go out and make a big score.”

Leading his country on home territory, though, will be special for Root. “This will definitely be the proudest moment of my career,” he said. “To come home where I've spent a lot of time watching cricket, learning about the game, making my own way in the game here as well, it will be very special.”

As for the decision to recall Woakes for his first Test since last winter’s tour of India, Root admits: “I think if you had looked at the start of the series and if Woakesy had been fit he would have come into the team straight away on the back of some really strong performances in Test cricket. He has been phenomenal for us.

“It is important that he gets some game time in and it is a great chance for him to prove himself and come back into the side with a strong performance.

“It shows we have got a lot of depth in the bowling department. Woakesy has got an opportunity this week but it is great to know Toby has been very unfortunate to miss out.”

TEAMS

England: Cook, Stoneman, Westley, Root (captain), Malan, Stokes, Bairstow (wicketkeeper), Moeen, Woakes, Broad, Anderson

West Indies (possible): Brathwaite, Powell, K Hope, S Hope, Chase, Blackwood, Dowrich (wicketkeeper), Holder (captain), Roach, Bishoo, Gabriel

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