354 days. The amount of time the English cricket team went without winning a test match. A painful period which saw them being completely blown away by Ashes rivals Australia in the winter, followed by a home series defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka at the start of this summer.
The beginning of the current series against India continued in a similar fashion to England’s disastrous winter, with underwhelming performances at both Trent Bridge and Lords; but it was as if a completely different team had ran out at The Ageas Bowl last week, convincingly beating the Indians by a resounding 266 runs.
For the first time since Chester-le-Street last summer, England bowled and batted as a unit. Throughout the order, batsmen got in and stayed in with Ballance and Bell both securing centuries along with Cook and debutant Joss Buttler scoring 95/70* and 85 respectively. Ian Bell was back to his magical best, once again showing he is the most technically proficient batsman England have.
James Anderson returned to the cricketer of old as well, demonstrating why he is regarded by many as the best swing bowler in the world, arguably of all time. The variation of his bowling, an astute fusion of out-swingers and sudden in-swingers, is often impossible to bat against and a genuine pleasure to behold. His partnership with Stuart Broad once again flourished with the Nottinghamshire man also experiencing a return to form of sorts; taking a collection of important wickets in the first innings and displaying some excellent work in the field throughout the five days.
Both senior bowlers were backed up superbly by fellow seamers Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes who were desperately unlucky not to secure any wickets. The star of England’s bowling show was undoubtedly Moeen Ali however who has cemented his position as a genuine all-rounder and potentially England’s future spinner for years to come.
Graeme Swann has talked a lot since retiring about the pressure a spin bowler is under to bowl a team out, on a turning pitch, on the final day of a test match. Bar the first few overs of his first spell on day five however, this pressure seemed immaterial to Ali who collected six wickets from a team that, theoretically at least, should be amongst the most equipped at dealing with good spin bowling in the world.
The win was orchestrated and largely built around Alastair Cook however. The much maligned captain answered his critics emphatically, with an impressive 95 in the first innings and an unbeaten 70 in the second. It was his captaincy that was possibly most impressive though. Every change of bowling he dictated and fielder he arranged seemed to catalyse a wicket and his decision to bat first on day one was later proven to be the correct one.
Is all this positivity sustainable however? Well in the short term, James Anderson’s acquittal from any possible match ban following his run-in with Ravindra Jadeja at Trent Bridge has certainly aided England’s chances for the remaining series.
Current weather forecasts for the Old Trafford test match this coming Thursday (unsurprisingly for cricket played in the City of Manchester) suggest that rain delays and cloudy overhead conditions will be a feature throughout. In other words, a platform for Anderson and co to give the Indian batsmen a lesson or two in what it’s really like to play in an English summer.
England’s batsmen were undoubtedly much improved in the Third Test but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still question marks over a few of them. Sam Robson appears to be the best option England have in partnering Cook at the top of the order, but he still needs to start turning his good starts into more 50s and 100s for him to achieve the heights his fellow test newcomers are reaching.
Although high scores of 59 and 127 in his nine test innings so far are impressive, he could certainly do with another century in Manchester this week to solidify his opening spot, especially when we compare the start to his test career with compatriot’s Gary Ballance who’s managed to accumulate three centuries and two half centuries in just eleven test match innings so far at a remarkable average of 63.
Ballance showed all his indisputable promise in Southampton, seamlessly switching from a strike rate of 54 in his first innings to 79 in the second when England were in need of fast runs. He has a vast array of shots in his arsenal whilst appearing to possess the sort of calm, unruffled temperament necessary to become one of the very best test batsmen.
Debutant Jos Buttler demonstrated similar potential with both bat and gloves at The Rose Bowl. A batsman who looks completely comfortable playing in all formats of the game, it was his glove work that impressed most on the south coast. With a very Australian-type approach to wicket-keeping (catching the ball high up at the side of his body), he managed to take six catches in two innings. This combined with his extremely exciting 85 off 103 balls with the bat meant that the Lancashire man has certainly experienced a worse five days cricket in his career to date.
So in answer to my initial question; yes, I believe during the third test match in Southampton, England did experience a resurrection of sorts with seasoned performers regaining their impetus once again and younger players showing why the future seems bright for English cricket.
India will undoubtedly come back stronger in Manchester however. Captain M. S. Dhoni will certainly not make the same mistake again of not including top-class spin bowler Ravichandran Ashwin whilst it can only be a matter of time before much acclaimed batsman Shikar Dhawan starts to make runs again.
If England play to the level they reached in Southampton however, I am certain that they have the ability to win the remaining two games and secure a much needed series victory.