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Ashes 2023: Chris Woakes is still England’s ‘Mr Reliable’ – even if he is constantly overshadowed

Time to give credit where it is due, not all heroes wear big-hitting capes

Many a wild child eventually meets that partner who becomes a calming influence and steers them back on the straight and narrow.

Against every other narrative out there, Bazball’s such figure, one that preserves the very essence of this newfound combative approach to Test cricket is Chris Woakes.

Ben Stokes called him “Mr Reliable” after his match-winning knock at Headingley, his first Test since March 2022, and six crucial wickets with the ball. High praise from a man whose ideal cricketer is very much the anthesis of the way the Warwickshire all-rounder plies his trade.

As all others lost their heads, continuing to get out to poor shots when there was so much time on England’s side that leaving the ball should have been the plan before the ball had left an Australian seamer’s hand, Woakes kept his.

His unbeaten 32 off 47 balls won’t live long in the memory, nor will his unremarkable match figures of 6-141 – but that is Woakes’s career in a nutshell.

Playing entirely in an era of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, Woakes has only ever been able to operate in the shadows. Just like Andy Murray being constantly bettered by the other-worldly exploits of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, Woakes was never going to be recognised in the pantheon of cricketing greats. No matter what he did.

He is not even the best all-rounder in the England setup, as he, like all others in his multi-faceted role have tried and failed to even get close to what Stokes has achieved on planet earth.

It doesn’t mean what he has done over the years for England, however, often unnoticed, should go unheralded.

Of course, Woakes had been here before, under the radar, hitting an unbeaten 84 against Pakistan at Old Trafford in the Covid-19 summer of 2020 to help England chase down 277 in an almost-forgotten three-wicket win that was played behind closed doors.

To then go and do it on the biggest stage of all, after it appeared his red-ball career was over, having been injured or overlooked for the entirety of the Bazball era, is an altogether more impressive feat.

“It’s always good having selection headaches as a squad and as a team,” Stokes said. “We went with Woody and Woaksey this game and Mo back into the team as well.

“So when you make some changes and those guys come in and make an impact at different points throughout the game you obviously give yourself a pat on the back and say well done.

“Woakesy being out of the team for such a long period of time and to come back in and perform the way that he did both with ball and with bat is incredible.”

There were further hook shots, from experienced heads who should know better, to leave England staring down the barrel of yet another match they had done more than enough to win.

England supporters feared not. Everything was written for Stokes to do what he did at Headingley four years ago, only this time with a more than manageable run chase ahead of him. Especially given what he had managed in the first innings, on one leg.

But when he too feathered one down leg side that he did not need to go anywhere near, the Bazball obituaries were being readied and funeral procession moved to the planning stage.

Out with the new, and in with the old. With Mark Wood swinging at everything down one end, Woakes was happy to collect the ones and twos, with the hook shot firmly packed away, without feeling the need to wildly fling his bat at anything that moved outside his off stump.

All of which came about after his telling contribution with the ball. Eyebrows were raised after being made to wait six hours for any play at all on day three, Woakes was the man Stokes went with to get quick wickets, in challenging conditions, with the bombastic Wood forced to look on.

Mr Reliable, however, didn’t let his skipper down once more. Big wickets and crucial times all match, removing Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh twice, Travis Head and Usman Khawaja swung the pendulum back England’s way when the hosts, at times, did their utmost to seal an early series success for their old foes.

Constantly overshadowed, the fact Woakes was the man to hit the winning runs, with a sweetly-struck boundary through the covers, felt fitting.

Time to give credit where it is due. Not all heroes wear big-hitting capes.

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