It has been three years since Chris Woakes first took England over the line with the bat in a Test match. A score of 84 not out, the bulk of which came in a stand of 139 with Jos Buttler, helped chase down 277 in the fourth innings to win the first of a three-match series against Pakistan.
It would be underselling the occasion to say last Sunday's events at Headingley were a world away, as Woakes' unbeaten 32 helped England to a target of 251 to keep the Ashes alive. The world itself was a very different place.
Back in 2020, life had come to a sudden, jarring halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With the threat of losses for English cricket in the region of £380 million, the ECB created bio-secure bubbles at Emirates Old Trafford and the Ageas Bowl to honour their broadcast deals, subsequently limiting that figure to just over £100 million. All international and domestic fixtures in the 2020 summer were played behind closed doors, meaning the stands were empty for Woakes' first bout of fourth-innings heroics.
It felt like a microcosm of the Warwickshire allrounder's career. As reliable a performer as he has been for England across all formats, he rarely gets the spotlight, particularly when operating in a team alongside Ben Stokes. In Leeds, however, with Stokes watching on from the home balcony having been dismissed for 13, Woakes produced a measured innings to seal victory by three wickets in the third Test against Australia, cheered on by a raucous packed house and a peak audience of 2.05 million on Sky Sports.
"It literally doesn't get any better than that, I don't think," Woakes said. "The feeling of that roar, the Western Terrace going mad.
"Personally, in my biased opinion, it would have been better if I was doing it in front of the Hollies [at Edgbaston]. It's pretty special. It's pretty cool. Amazing feeling. I think you don't hear the crowd as much out there as you do when you're on the sides. But, it's just special. If you could bottle that up forever and come back to it, you would."
Arriving at the crease with England's chase on the rocks on 171 for six, Woakes initially played second fiddle to Harry Brook, who was eventually dismissed on 75. The 34-year-old then assumed the leading role with Mark Wood, as the pair finished the job with a stand of 24 from 14 balls, with Woakes striking Mitchell Starc through cover point for the winning boundary.
After England had closed the previous evening on 27 for 0 - needing another 224 for victory as the fourth day dawned - Woakes had figured any role he would play in the final act would be more akin to Jack Leach's famous 1 not out inHeadingley's 2019 Ashes Test, than the epic 135 not out at the other end that Stokes had scripted on that famous day. Given he played a more substantial part in proceedings, how did it feel to mimic the man himself?
"I don't know about that, I don't know about that!" Woakes protested at the assertion his knock was akin to Stokes' heroics. "I felt a tiny bit about how he felt at Headingley last time round.
"But it's just amazing to get over the line and beat (Australia). You are always coming into these days believing you're going to get over the line, but they're always going to be tight, aren't they, regardless? You always feel like there's going to be a twist. I felt like me and Brooky were cruising and he made an unbelievable knock to get 75 and play the way he did. But there was always a twist and I'm just delighted to get over the line."
Woakes' first appearance in this series was also his first cap since March 2022, which he had also feared might be his last as England's 1-0 loss away to the West Indies that followed a 4-0 Ashes defeat. Five wickets at 48.80 in the Caribbean after just six at 55.30 in Australia certainly felt like the end of the road. And though he is rated highly by Stokes who became Test captain at the start of the 2022 summer, a right knee injury which eventually required surgery that ruled him out of the entire home season looked to have set him exclusively on the white-ball path.
But over the course of the winter, he would add a T20 World Cup winner's medal to his 50-over one from 2019, along with nine more limited-overs caps in bilateral series. But his ambitions to play more Test cricket still burned bright.
Woakes duly ruled himself out for the IPL to tune up with Warwickshire in the County Championship, and looked to be in line for a recall against Ireland until the England management opted to blood Worcestershire's Josh Tongue instead. He was fully fit for the first two Ashes Tests too, but he bided his time and made a profound impression in his first outing. Along with his runs were figures of three for 73 and three for 68 in the first and second innings respectively, and not a tailender among them, as he claimed the crucial wickets of Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh (twice), Usman Khawaja and Alex Carey.
While he always hoped he would add to his 45 caps coming into this summer, Woakes admitted to wondering if his time was up.
"It's quite emotional actually," he said. "You sometimes think the ship has sailed, of course you do. Especially when the team is going so well last summer and I wasn't involved, obviously I had injuries and stuff. You do wonder whether that ship has sailed. But I made a big decision at the start of summer not to go to India and, you know, it's days like this make that sort of decision pay off, comfortably."
Given the balance Woakes gives the side, taking some of the bowling strain off Stokes who continues to manage a chronically injured left knee, while lengthening the batting, his place in the XI for the remainder of the series seems like a no-brainer. He proved his durability, too, with 35 overs in the match at a consistent pace, and stepped up when Ollie Robinson was unable to bowl in the second innings.
The fourth Test begins on July 19 and will be Woakes' first time back to Manchester since that 2020 performance. Though he is not looking too far ahead with regards to keeping his place, he expects England to arrive believing they can continue on what would be a remarkable comeback to win the Ashes. Especially with the pressure on Australia to not let things slip having come into the third Test 2-0 up.
"It's always been there, in that dressing-room the belief is we can win 3-2," Woakes said.
"You don't want to look too far ahead, you have to play what's in front of you, each ball, each day, each session, each Test match as it comes. I'd imagine when you're so close to getting something, the harder it gets, and I'm sure the Aussies will be feeling that now. Once you get so close to something, it's actually hard to get that over the line, isn't it?
"We've got turn up in Manchester and put in another performance. They're a bloody good side, they're an extremely good side. We're going to have to be at our best to beat them again."