The Bears have their Wizard back to mark poignant milestone

Sunday mightn't have gone entirely to plan for Chris Woakes. In the absence of Chris Rushworth, Hassan Ali and the continuing omission of Liam Norwell, it was a welcome sight indeed to witness Woakes stride out with his Warwickshire teammates to the Edgbaston outfield at 11am on Sunday, with the bear and ragged staff on his chest.

It's a beautiful day in Birmingham, the sort we've yearned for since spring. It's clear and bright, but the temperature is steadily improving, too. Hampshire, visitors to Edgbaston this week, won the toss and chose to bat. Woakes is thrown the new ball and opens the bowling from the Birmingham End.

Bar a couple of T20 matches in recent times, it's been a little while since Birmingham's son was playing in his whites at a Test match venue, with a Duke's ball in hand, and challenging top order batters with swing and persistence. With a busy summer on home soil - exactly the conditions England tend to tap into Woakes' expertise in - it was imperative that he got some red ball action under his belt in order to prepare.

This isn't merely any other Championship game for Woakes to utilise so that he could blow the cobwebs away, however. This is his 100th First Class game for the Bears, a fine achievement and proud day for the Woakes clan in itself. It's been 16 years since he burst onto the scene as a sprightly teenager and ended the 2008 campaign with 42 First Class wickets at an average of 20.5. In the previous 99 matches, Woakes had taken 364 wickets.

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Amid the pride, there'll be understandable sadness. Woakes lost his father Roger at the beginning of May and consequently took a short break from the sport. By returning to play for the Bears, Woakes is continuing to do what made his dad happy. As he mentioned upon breaking the tragic news: "I will be back playing cricket for Warwickshire, who my Dad loved dearly...I know playing cricket for Warwickshire and England made my Dad incredibly proud."

"It's not nice, we've all lost someone that we're close to," Warwickshire head coach Mark Robinson says. "He has got to support his mother, but he's got two young children, and anybody with children knows that they don't let you wallow in grief. They want to play with their dad and do childish things which is good. He's back, he's played those two T20 games which is good for him. He hasn't had a long bowl for a long time, but to have him back at any point is brilliant."

Returning to a changing room after a period of grief perhaps isn't akin to returning to an office, or similar. You're more likely to be a closer knit team in the dressing room, where more of your friends may be found, people who can help to support you through an especially difficult time. As with the whole of England last summer as Woakes, introduced mid-series, inspired his country's Ashes fightback, his teammates are extremely fond of him.

"It's always nice getting Wiz back," Sam Hain smiles. "I love him to bits, he's a hell of a player and a hell of a person. He's somebody who, especially at the start when I took a little bit of a break, was there for me. To have him back with us for a couple of games has been great. The sun always seems to shine when Wiz is around. It's a blessing to have the great Chris Woakes with us."

So Woakes is back in a particularly familiar environment. The wicket looked decent for batting, signalling Hants' decision to do so first up, so Woakes and partner Oliver Hannon-Dalby were up against it initially, despite putting the ball in some decent areas. The ball routinely found the gloves of Michael Burgess, but the visitors possess some impressive players and Nick Gubbins and Fletcha Middleton made life hard. At 119/1, the Bears needed some inspiration.

They got some, through OHD and Ed Barnard, while Craig Miles also claimed three victims, including two in the space of three deliveries in an over. Woakes ended with solid if unspectacular figures of 15-5-36-1, although it would've been cruel if he'd not departed the pitch with a wicket to his name. Thankfully, right at the end of Hampshire's innings, in which they were bowled out for 298, he found Kyle Abbott's leading edge.

The Bears openers then played out a funny final period of the first day. With a dozen overs left remaining in the day, Will Rhodes and Alex Davies were finding fortunate boundaries down to third man as often as they were crashing them through the covers. Both were removed by Abbott, though, in the closing stages to tee up an interesting morning on day two. For Woakes, he'll hope to have his feet up for a good while longer until his services are required with the bat.

"I've been overwhelmed with the support I've had in the last month to six weeks," he said, on his return to the cricket sphere. "Everyone has been very good in welcoming me back in, but the cricket pitch is where I need to be, it's what I know. I've been doing it for almost 20 years now and it's great to be back out there, doing my dad proud but also trying to play with a smile on my face.

"It's my first four-day game in over a year, so I did feel slightly rusty on day one. I feel better for the overs in the tank, I need those overs under my belt but fairly pleased with how it's gone.

"There's cricket everywhere you look. For Warwickshire, for Hundred teams, for England, I'd love to play as much of a part in everything as I can. I still think at the top of my list is to play for England for as long as possible. I want to get a part of that squad again, but there is so much cricket now to the end of September. I'm desperate to be a part of it."

Woakes' return to domestic cricket can often be brief before the ECB come calling again. Even if that's the case, no matter how fleeting, it's still lovely to see him back in a Bears shirt.