England's grit would have impressed Fletcher
If England are to topple India at the top of the Test tree, their powers of recovery will play a vital part. At various times things will not go according to plan, but it's how a team drags themselves out of trouble that often defines their credentials. Australia had it during their march to the top, India have shown the same tenacity on occasions and England are now showing similar traits.
In the second innings at Lord's they were 62 for 5 and, even though the actual position was a less perilous 250 for 5, the match could easily have shifted towards India. Instead, Matt Prior and Stuart Broad reasserted England's authority with an unbroken stand of 162. On the first afternoon at Trent Bridge the hosts were sinking at 124 for 8 before the final two wickets added a precious 97 with Broad again a key figure in the revival as he clubbed 64 off 66 balls.
Up in the Indian dressing one man in particular will have felt a mixture of annoyance and grudging respect. Duncan Fletcher put a premium on lower order runs. Shortly before he took over as England coach in 1999-2000 they had fielded a tail of Andrew Caddick, Ed Giddins, Alan Mullally and Phil Tufnell. Never again said Fletcher; five out wouldn't mean all out. What bowlers could produce with the bat became a key selection criteria.
It's hard to remember a stronger lower order than the current one including Broad, Graeme Swann and Tim Bresnan, even if it was brought around by default after Chris Tremlett's injury. They are all shot-players too, which means once a partnership gets going the game can suddenly change direction as was the case during the final session where MS Dhoni suddenly sent fielders scurrying to the outfield.
"We had a chat at tea and decided we needed to grab the momentum back by playing our natural games and looking to hit the ball," Broad said. "If there was any width on the ball I was going to throw my hands at it. There was still some swing there so it was quite hard to go hell for leather. I knew it was important to get the Indian bowlers off their line and length, that was the tactic and it paid off."
It didn't go unnoticed, either, that the stand between Broad and Swann, worth 73 in 11.4 overs, was ended by a spitting delivery from the medium pace of Praveen Kumar. It struck Swann on the glove and forced him to hospital for a precautionary x-ray that revealed no serious damage.
"We know we have a chance and there were a few plays and misses this evening that could have been nicks," Broad said. "You saw Graeme Swann's dismissal, the ball really leapt at him, and that will give us a lot of encouragement. We are all excited about what could happen. It will be up to us to grab the initiative."
The annoyance for Fletcher at seeing India's position slip will have been increased by the fact that wrapping up opposition line-ups has been a long-standing problem for them. Since 2005 they have conceded eight hundred-plus partnerships for the seventh wicket and below. However, Sreesanth, who took 3 for 77 from 19 lively overs, insisted India were not fazed.
"That's how Test cricket goes, we knew one partnership would come," he said. "All credit to him [Broad], he took his chances. If it had been 140 all out it would have been one-side, but it's good they are fighting."
While the fightback shouldn't gloss over the earlier position England were in, it wasn't purely a poor batting display from the top order. India bowled well and the conditions were helpful, so much so that being two down at lunch was a good result for England. Six wickets in the afternoon session was a major problem, but it showed the fine line involved in Test cricket.
Last week, at Lord's, England were inserted under grey skies and battled through a shortened first day to reach 127 for 2 - a position from where they dominated the Test. However, even at the time, they admitted it was tough and they needed some luck. There was plenty of playing and missing whereas today the edges went to slip.
"We knew we would have to battle hard," Broad said. "You saw at Lord's we managed to get through the period where it swung but didn't manage to do it as successfully here. "I thought India bowled brilliantly, it was a good toss to win, but the way we were two down at lunch was brilliant.
"You can't blame too many of our batsmen for throwing their wickets away. There were some good deliveries in there." he added. "The bowlers are champing at the bit to get out there in the morning. At tea it was India's day 100%. We are delighted to have wrestled our way back in, it's been a hard fight but it's been exciting."
Still, there are a couple of England batsmen who could do with a significant contribution. Andrew Strauss fought through the morning session, as he did at Lord's, only to give his innings away with a flat-footed drive for 32 and Eoin Morgan collected his second third-ball duck of the series when he was lbw in the same over against Praveen Kumar.
Strauss has been far from fluent in this series, continuing a lean international season, despite his impressive warm-up game form for Somerset, while Morgan has twice been removed by the swinging ball. There is no need to ring alarm bells yet, but with Strauss now solely a Test cricketer and Morgan trying to cement the No. 6 role, a quiet series will pose some tricky questions. For now, though, the tricky questions are going to be asked by the conditions. It may yet prove a testing game for all the top-order batsmen.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo