Flat Pitch and Weak Indian Bowling Should Put England's Batting into Perspective

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Flat Pitch and Weak Indian Bowling Should Put England's Batting into Perspective
Stu Forster/Getty Images

There was undeniably, and certainly in hindsight, a sense of fragility to England's 3-0 Ashes victory last summer. But pointing that out with too much enthusiasm at the time seemed almost unfair—wrong even.

England were winning Test matches, they were a side who just 18 months previously had been ranked No. 1 in the world. They may have been playing dour cricket, getting lucky breaks and playing a team beating themselves more than they were beating them, but they were winning.

They weren't, however, winning for much longer. And if last summer and the winter of discontent that followed bore with it any lessons, the danger of complacency must surely be one of them.

It would be wrong therefore, as it was 12 months ago, to overlook the fragility of England's strong start to the third Test match at the Ageas Bowl.

Yes, England have scored 569 in the first innings. Yes, Gary Ballance and Ian Bell scored 150-plus. And yes, both Alastair Cook and Jos Buttler scored fifties laced with differing but real cause for optimism, but they have done all of this not in spite of, but largely because of the conditions and opposition they have faced. 

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Of course, you can only beat the opposition you are put up against. England have certainly done a good job at that over the first two days, but in the grander scheme of things, it is important to retain a sense of perspective.

The pitch, as is always the case, will be more suitably assessed once India too have batted on it.

But on the evidence of the first two days it is slow, low and unresponsive—and although it may turn on Days 4 and 5, it offers little in the way of encouragement for bowlers of any shape and size. 569 runs is a good first innings score, but in these conditions, it's the kind of score a team would be disappointed if they didn't make. 

Certainly England would have been disappointed had they failed to register the score they did, for India's lacklustre bowling attack provided very little threat and wilted steadily as the innings wore on.

Admittedly, Pankaj Singh probably deserved better than his wicket-less sojourn, but you win, lose, try and fail as a team, and India's fielding was poor throughout the innings. 

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Indeed, had India held their catches and taken their chances, things could be very different right now. For all three of Cook, Bell and Buttler were afforded let-offs, Buttler possibly three. 

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But forgetting England's assistance for a moment, the road to recovery from the rubble of Andy Flower's reign will be long and arduous, and in seizing their opportunities as they have done in favourable conditions against an Indian team perhaps resting on their laurels following the victory at Lord's, they have laid a platform from which they could launch an assault on victory. 

Cook may have been reprieved on 15, and he may have looked like a man batting against the magnetic forces of the earth for much of his innings. But he scored runs, and that's more than can be said of his past 18 months.

Bell's return to form too is welcome, for in amongst the clamour for him to replace Cook as captain, his own returns had tailed off alarmingly. Ballance too continues to churn out the runs.

But most encouraging of all must surely be the innings of Buttler, which straddling numerous reprieves and against a broken attack demonstrated all the exuberance, fluency and talent that carried him to the team in the first place.  

Admittedly, this was not the great leap into the ether that the scoreboard perhaps suggests but nor was it the horrific collapses of the past ten months.

And from that, from these two days, England can take hope. 

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