Uxbridge(final day): Warwickshire (393, 21pts) beat Middlesex (170 & 167, 3pts) by an innings and 56 runs.
It has been a long time since Warwickshire benefited from the services of a good quality home-grown seam bowler but, after years of agonising, the search is surely over.
Whatever happens in the remainder of this season, it may well come to be remembered for the emergence of Chris Woakes. While the region has produced the likes of Kabir Ali, Graham Wagg and Naqaash Tahir in recent years, none have enjoyed substantial careers for the club and the last specialist seamer to progress through the youth system and win his county cap was Steve Perryman in 1977.
Now, however, after two key performances in three championship matches, Woakes, after his career-best five for 37 on Saturday, can start to be considered the genuine article. He is not in the side on promise; he is in on merit. His bowling here was as mature as it was skilful and he played a prominent role in an important victory.
Warwickshire’s win - their first innings success since the match against Worcestershire in May 2007 - leaves them 20 points clear at the top with seven matches to play. They remain the only unbeaten side in either division and, after the debacle of 2007, are clearly back on track. The promised land of promotion is on the distant horizon.
It was the manner of the victory that was most impressive, however. From the perils of 78 for four in their first innings, Warwickshire produced a performance of discipline and skill to overwhelm the side that started the match in second place. The partnership of 157 between Tony Frost and Jim Troughton turned this game around before Neil Carter’s swift contribution seized the initiative. Then the bowlers combined admirably to work their way through Middlesex’s batting. All things considered it was, perhaps, the best Warwickshire performance in a championship match since the victory over Surrey at Guildford in 2004.
Most pleasing of all was the continued excellence of Woakes. The 19-year-old’s return was his second five-wicket innings return in three championship matches. Swinging the ball both ways and maintaining a remarkably nagging line and length, he helped bowl Middlesex out just after lunch on the final day and may even have earned himself a shot at an England A tour this winter.
He will not always find conditions so conducive to his swing and there will be days when his lack of pace is a serious impediment. But, such is his control and skill, that he surely has a golden future. He has the gift of making the game look simple and will surely gain in pace naturally over the next few years.
The context makes his display all the more laudable. In his previous game, the Twenty20 Cup quarter-final against Kent, Woakes suffered the indignity of conceding 27 runs in three balls and was ordered out of the attack by the umpires.
“That could have destroyed other players,” Ashley Giles, the Warwickshire director of cricket, said, “but he’s got straight back out there and bowled out of his skin. Nothing fazes him. He’ll have days again when things go wrong but he’s a strong character. He bounced back then and he’ll bounce back again.”
“Up to then [the quarter-final] everything had gone really well,” Woakes said. “But that over... I guess it was a steep learning curve for me.It wasn’t that I was nervous, it was just that I got it wrong. I was trying to bowl the yorker and it didn’t go the way I planned.
“I like bowling at ‘the death’. I knew it was a possibility and I was happy to do it. In fact, it gives me confidence that I was asked to bowl at the death. Some of the other bowlers had overs left but the captain asked me. It’s what you want as a bowler, really. I love playing in front of big crowds and hope I spend my whole career doing it.“It played on my mind for a couple of days but it wasn’t really something I thought of coming into this game. My championship form has been pretty good.
“Ashley and AD [Allan Donald] were great. They just said ‘bad luck’, really. AD asked me what I’d do if I was asked to bowl at ‘the death’ again and I said it would be fine. I’d try to do the same thing, bowl as full as possible, but obviously I’d aim to get it right. They haven’t put any pressure on me at all.
“I’d probably been more nervous before the [Twenty20] game at Taunton. Maybe nervous is the wrong word but the adrenalin was flowing. It was a televised game and bowling on that wicket and against their batsmen was a bit daunting but I did pretty well and took a huge amount of confidence from it. I got a real buzz from playing in the Twenty20.
“The whole summer has just been a dream come true. I was hoping I’d be doing this but I thought I’d be playing for the seconds and maybe thinking about university. I’ve put that to one side now.”
Woakes will, quite rightly, take the plaudits but this was a fine performance by the whole seam-bowling unit. Carter, Chris Martin and Darren Maddy all bowled well, each helping increase the pressure on the batsmen.
It took only three overs for Warwickshire to breakthrough on the final day. Martin, bringing the ball back in sharply to the right-handers, found the inside edge of Nick Compton’s bat and saw Frost cling on to a fine diving catch.
Moments later, Warwickshire’s latest target, Dawid Malan, followed. Maybe he was unfortunate, trapped in front by one that kept impossibly low, but the delivery that dismissed Owais Shah, swinging in and nipping away off the pitch, was close to unplayable.
Ed Joyce, who looked horribly out of form in this match, once again pushed at one he should have left outside off stump before Ben Scott helpfully guided a ball to slip. Eoin Morgan missed a straight one, Tim Murtagh drove to mid on and Murali Kartik sliced a slower ball to point where Troughton held a brilliant diving catch. Despite the slow pitch, Middlesex were, in each innings, dismissed for their lowest total of the season.
Giles said: “That was the most clinical performance this season. It was a thorough, disciplined performance and we’re in a good place in the dressing-room.”