Chris Woakes fears the worst for James Anderson’s prospects of featuring in the remainder of the first Ashes Test as England look to end the resolve of Australia linchpin Steve Smith.
England’s record wicket-taker sent down only four overs on the opening morning before going for a scan on a calf complaint and though he was able to bat on the third afternoon, he moved gingerly and did not take to the field for Australia’s second innings.
The tourists wiped out a 90-run first-innings deficit and were 34 ahead on 124 for three, Smith ominously still there at the close four short of his fifty when bad light and then rain at Edgbaston brought a slightly early end to proceedings.
Anderson’s prognosis remains unclear but the continued absence of a player Woakes feels is “the best fast bowler that’s ever lived” is a concern for his team-mate.
Woakes said: “I was gutted for Jimmy, he’s obviously dying to play more than anyone and wants to play more than anyone.
“But it wasn’t right which was unfortunate for him and unfortunate for us as a team with him being the best fast bowler that’s ever lived, in my opinion, with the amount of wickets he’s taken and all that.
“(His absence) is a bit of a blow but at the same time us as a unit have to go out there and try to do the job.
“Moving forward, I actually don’t know (whether he will be available on Sunday). The fact he hasn’t taken much part in the game so far doesn’t look too promising but I actually don’t know.
“It’s a well-poised Ashes Test match. It’s been a great Test match so far, reasonably even. We’re pretty happy having them 30 for three.
“If we can start well in the morning, two big wickets up front could be quite crucial. All of a sudden if you have them 50 or 60 for five, it’s a big turning point. Tomorrow morning, as always, is important.”
The only troubling moment on Saturday for Smith, who has compiled exactly 200 runs in this Specsavers series opener, was when he took a blow to the side of the helmet after missing an attempted pull off Ben Stokes.
Woakes recognises the significance of accounting for the former Australia captain as early as possible but revealed bowling on this pitch is becoming ever more problematic.
He added: “We saw how destructive was at the back end of the first innings, he scored over half the runs, so it’s important we try to get him out. He’s a world-class player.
“I think on this surface in particular, it’s hard to force the issue as a bowler.
“The pace has gone out of the pitch so you almost have to build pressure, maybe attack at the other end and hold at the other, and build pressure to make sure the batsman makes a mistake.
“But Steve doesn’t make too many mistakes.”
Smith’s blow saw a gap in play as he chatted with a couple of England players before being treated by the team doctor. There seemed to be no lingering effects as he batted to the close.
Asked about Smith’s condition, Australia paceman James Pattinson confirmed he was OK before paying tribute to a batsman who has excelled in this fixture despite being routinely jeered by the crowd for his involvement in the ball-tampering scandal.
Pattinson said: “It was quite a good reaction from him wasn’t it? We had a little bit of a chuckle in the dressing-room. He always puts a bit of mayo on things. He seems to be fine now.
“Without him we would be in a bit of trouble. He’s a fantastic player and to do it after everything he’s been through and he’s been copping a bit from the crowd, which has amused a lot of people.
“But to his credit, he just gets on with it and he’s a fantastic player. He’s someone who lifts the group when he’s out there.”
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