England, at last, appear to have turned a corner. With the third game of a five match test series with India underway signs of a return to past glories are promising, taking a return of 569 for 7 from their first inning. Overcoming their recent run of performances, chief among which was the utter capitulation which characterised England’s display throughout Australia’s 5-0 victory at the 2014 Ashes, England are seemingly beginning to revitalise their cricketing form.
The starting point for this improvement has been changes in personnel, with the recall of Warwickshire batsman Chris Woakes and the test debut of wicketkeeper Jos Buttler aiming to affect a change in fortune for the England team. Buttler, who replaces Matt Prior, will look to continue the impressive domestic form that has led to his international call-up, and his progression will be smoothened by the absence of DRS. Alastair Cook relied on the experience of Prior when making DRS calls, and Buttler, whose youth precludes the same experience as veteran Prior, will benefit from being free of Cook’s dependence on his wicketkeeper when making appeals. Buttler, the beneficiary of some good fortune following a questionable call from the third umpire at 0, put in an impressive 83-ball knock on day 2, making 85 runs before an over-exuberant swing left the ball catching his bottom edge on its way to the stumps. He will now aim to shine in his catching position as India look to bat their way back into the tie. With whispered comparisons to Australia’s legendary wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist, hope is high that Buttler can aid the rejuvenation of English cricket.
Chris Woakes, meanwhile, showed early signs of good form. Though his chance to shine was brief, with Alastair Cook declaring England’s innings complete with 14 overs remaining, clearly satisfied with their impressive total of 569 for 7, he batted an impressive 7 from 12 balls to solidify his position within the England team. Woakes, who responded to being overlooked for England’s test series with Sri Lanka by taking 8 wickets for Warwickshire in their win over Northants the following game, will doubtless have future opportunities to impress, with fans positive reaction to his inclusion indicative of the high regard he is afforded.
Alastair Cook, whose declaration ended Woakes’ contribution, had become a particular target following England’s Ashes performance. However, such is his dedication and passion for his captaincy, he emerged first to bat with an air of focus and determination. With his mind solely on the job at hand, Cook turned in a masterful performance, and his return of 95 laid down a marker for England. His good form continued, making the first catch of India’s innings to dismiss Shikhar Dawan for just 6. A figure of grit and leadership, Cook has shouldered the pressures and the spotlight of captaincy with admirable resolve, and was doubtlessly reassured by the comments of Sir Clive Woodward, who this week maligned the excessive focus on England’s captains, which counterproductively absolves the coaching team, particularly current head coach Peter Moores, of responsibility.
Following Cook’s example, England’s batsmen displayed the kind of form that has eluded them in recent tests, with Gary Ballance and Ian Bell turning in returns of 156and 167 respectively.
Doggedly overcoming both their prior form and a little misfortune – Ballance’s herculean effort of 156 was prematurely ended after a catch from Dhoni which replays showed was wrongly called out, the ball coming off the batsman’s trailing leg – England have given themselves every chance of drawing level in the tie with two matches remaining.
A winning result in this match, made all the more possible by the productive performance England have thus far exhibited, may have a profound effect on future form. Turning their current lead of 544 runs into a victory would allow England to take momentum into the final two games, and translating that momentum into results may yet pave the way for further successes. A victory in this test series with India may yet prove the turning point in England’s cricketing fortunes.
How can England build on their recent performances to recapture their winning form?