The absence of Ben Stokes from this game – and possibly beyond – was supposed to have left England with a hole that was impossible to plug.
Chris Woakes is too modest to say so, but he has always been a lot more than filler.
As if using the ball to make Virat Kohli look mortal wasn’t enough fun for one game, Woakes spent Saturday afternoon wielding his bat all the way to a maiden Test century, celebrated with a smile as wide as his native Worcester and Birmingham Canal.
Chris Woakes struck his maiden Test century for England against India on day three at Lord’s
The 29-year-old all-rounder celebrated his first ton before eventually reaching 120 not out
Even better, his runs were part of a match-defining stand of 189 with Jonny Bairstow, who looked destined to follow him to three figures until he edged a big drive off Hardik Pandya on 93.
The partnership, an England record for the sixth wicket against India, gave them complete control of the second Test – and almost certainly the series.
And it confirmed Woakes as a player who, in home conditions, deserves to be taken very seriously. If Stokes doesn’t reappear this summer, the all-rounder’s gig will be in safe hands.
The last year or so has not always been easy for Woakes. He was recalled too early from injury for the Headingley Test against West Indies last summer, and endured a horrible Ashes before being dropped in New Zealand.
Jonny Bairstow batted brilliantly in partnership with Woakes but fell seven short of his own 100
More fitness issues then limited him to one of England’s first three Tests this summer against Pakistan and India.
Now, he is just their fourth player – after Gubby Allen, Ian Botham and Stuart Broad – to etch his name on all three Lord’s honours boards: hundreds, five-fors and match hauls of ten wickets.
The delight of his team-mates on the balcony when, on 97, he pulled Pandya from wide outside off stump for three was spontaneous and genuine.
Even Trevor Bayliss, the normally taciturn coach, was on his feet cheering as the ball cleared the man at mid-on. There can hardly be a more popular cricketer in England.
And make no mistake: this was no gimme. England were 131 for five in reply to India’s 107 when Woakes joined Bairstow.
Another quick wicket, and the tourists might have entertained thoughts about setting a tricky fourth-innings target on a pitch where the odd ball was already keeping low.
If conditions were not quite the perfect storm that confronted India’s batsmen on Friday, when Jimmy Anderson ran amok under pregnant skies, there was still lateral movement on offer, both through the air and off the pitch.
England lost four wickets during the opening session as Mohammed Shami made inroads
He removed Keaton Jennings and Joe Root (R) as India battled back before the lunch break
Jos Buttler added 24 before being trapped lbw by Shami, with England leading by same total
Mohammed Shami had just won his third lbw shout of the innings to remove Jos Buttler, and India had a small window in which to underline why they are miles ahead at the top of the rankings.
Instead, Bairstow – playing one of his most mature Test innings – and Woakes slammed it shut.
Bairstow’s batting needs little introduction, yet Woakes did more than match him. One straight-drive for four off Ishant Sharma belonged higher up the order.
It seemed absurd that his highest Test score until now had been 66; and equally daft that this was his first Test innings for two years from higher than No 8.
Gloriously, Woakes is now the only man in the history of Test cricket to average more than 50 with the bat and under 10 with the ball at one venue.
But stats be damned. As the English game glances anxiously at events in Bristol crown court, this was an innings to reaffirm cricket’s essential goodness.
However, Woakes and Bairstow then combined to help the hosts build a commanding lead
Bairstow scored 93 before his edge was caught one-handed by wicket-keeper Dinesh Karthik
By the time bad light ended play with 17 overs still to go, Woakes had contributed an unbeaten 120 from just 159 balls to a total of 357 for six. England lead by 250. Only bad weather can save India now.
For much of the day, they had looked determined to atone for their own first innings. In the eighth over, Shami hit Keaton Jennings on the ankle in front of middle stump, only for Alastair Cook to persuade his partner to ask for a review.
It left Jennings with 90 runs in four innings since his recall, and in need of something substantial to fend off the challenge of Surrey’s Rory Burns.
Cook looked good for 21 before edging Sharma, and it was 77 for three when the 20-year-old Ollie Pope – who tucked his second ball in Test cricket for four and generally looked composed and classy – was trapped by Pandya for 28.
Joe Root made an unusually scratchy 19 before Shami thudded one back down the slope and into his pads with what became the last ball before lunch.
And after it, Buttler’s lively 24 ended when he went too far across to Shami and missed a whip to leg.
At this stage, the game’s highest score was Ravichandran Ashwin’s 29. But Bairstow went past that, and Woakes bedded in as Kohli began to chase the game, as he tends to when he fears losing control.
Sam Curran joined Woakes at the crease before play was halted prematurely for bad light
With Kuldeep Yadav’s left-arm wrist-spin proving erratic, and Ashwin getting little purchase with his off-breaks, India’s decision to play two slow bowlers looked even worse than it did at the toss.
More damningly, they looked as undercooked as you might expect of a team who played only one first-class warm-up game before this series, against Essex at Chelmsford.
Even then, they insisted on lopping off a day. How foolish that looks now.
In truth, they needed to emerge victorious from a tight first Test at Edgbaston. And if they go 2-0 down here, they will have to make history.
Only one side has won a Test series from that position, and they included Don Bradman, against England in 1936-37. Kohli is good, but he’s not that good.
As for Chris Woakes, that may be another matter entirely.