A wonderfully pulsating day of test cricket, which still left England comfortably on top, despite MS Dhoni’s lusty counter-attack.
Some will say that we allowed India – who rallied from 111-7 to 224 – to wriggle off the hook. But test cricket, almost by definition, is about ebb and flow, subsidence and recovery. 111-7 was an exaggeration. After a free-fall of wickets, a compensatory period of run-making was only the natural way of things.
Arguably, the easiest time for tail-enders to bat is when the top-order have completely failed. They have nothing to lose; they can take their chances, bat with impunity. And when batsmen are in that mode, they’re very hard to bowl to.
That said, if England’s bowling attack has a weakness, it’s against tail-enders having a bash. In both the 2009 and 2010/11 Ashes, Australia repeatedly recovered from ignominious positions to post a workable total. Our bowlers yesterday again fell into their familiar trap of trying too hard, and dropping short, rather than aiming for the stumps. In mitigation, though, Dhoni hit some terrific shots.
But let’s not be picky. When you insert the opposition, to dismiss them for 224 means you have done the job, especially when you then reach 84-0 in reply. Our bowlers again excelled yesterday at maintaining wicket-taking pressure – albeit with the odd lapse – in conditions less helpful than first anticipated.
Meanwhile, Tim Bresnan – bless him – is rapidly becoming an English folk hero. He occupies the same kind of place that Matthew Hoggard did, because we can relate to him – he’s unglamorous, workmanlike, and far closer in physique and style to a pub team hack than a superstar international sportsman. But he’s performing mightily well right now, and the selectors will have a real dilemma when Tremlett returns. The wonder-ball to Dravid was firmly in the ‘tell-the-grandchildren’ class.
We will have to bat last in this match, a role our batsmen may have forgotten how to perform. They’ve not been required to chase down a target since the Pakistan series a year ago. So we need a commanding first innings lead, which shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Today is a big day for Andrew Strauss. How acutely he needs a century – and ideally a big one – to relieve the pressur e and silence his critics. Eoin Morgan could also use some hard-earned runs against the new ball, rather than the easy pickings which have already become his cliche. Then there’s Bopara. Despite our scepticism towards him, as England supporters we do actually want him to succeed, not fail. And maybe he will.