Nottingham and the joy of swing
As they have generally done in the course of becoming the top-ranked Test team in the world, India found the spark in their second coming and the series has now come to life. Lord's was a tighter contest than the margin of defeat suggested, and the second Test, just a day old, already carries the promise of a fulfilling contest between bat and ball.
Happily, Trent Bridge doesn't do draws. There has been only one here in the last ten years, and it took a huge effort from Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly on the final day, in 2002, to secure it. And even though it is something of an English bastion, India and Sri Lanka have won Tests here. And throughout the see-sawing day, it was easy to see results are the most natural outcome at this ground. Batting was a trial every over.
There can be the argument that the conditions were too partial towards bowling to produce a fair contest. Certainly the ball wrecked mayhem in the middle. It swung and wobbled in the air, nipped and jagged off the pitch, and some ascended without warning from a length. Given the number of balls that defeated the bat, the wicket count wasn't perhaps an accurate reflection of the nature of the day, but batsmen would cherish every run scored on the pitch, and those who watched it would know it too.
Stuart Broad came fresh from an unbeaten 73 at Lord's, but his momentum-changing 64 today was worth a hundred. It came not through the flails and swishes of a No.9, but through accomplished batsmanship that contained many bold strokes alongside some reasonable defending. And in the last hour of the day, Dravid, forced to open in the second consecutive innings, and VVS Laxman, who faced the second ball of the innings, had to draw on not only their exceptional skills but years of experience to make it India's day. Just about.
During the Lord's Test, there was a discussion on the air about the dynamics of swing bowling. Nasser Hussain quoted arguments from a NASA scientist to suggest that swing has nothing to with the atmosphere - cloud cover and the resultant heaviness in the air - and had everything to with the condition of the ball and the seam position. His fellow commentators didn't appear convinced but didn't have a scientific counter.
Whatever might be the fundamentals of swing, there is something about Trent Bridge that makes the ball shake a hip. No one can explain it cogently, but they say it has something to do with the new stands. When India were here last, a new stand had just been erected and Zaheer Khan led them to a comprehensive win. Another stand has come up on the opposite side, and India didn't even miss Zaheer, still recovering from a pulled-hamstring, after their captain had won a second toss in a row.
It's just as well that they had the right kind of bowler to lift them. Sreesanth, a bowler born to bowl in Test cricket but whose biggest challenge has been mastering his own mind and winning the confidence of his captain, bowled as if nothing had happened between his previous Test, in Cape Town in January, and today. The seam came proudly out of his hand, the ball was pitched up, and it shaped beautifully away. He was the most expensive bowler of the day, but he also took the most prized wickets. The ball that removed Matt Prior, Engalnd's batting hero from the Lord's Test, was the most sensational of the series of outstanding outwingers he produced all day.
Maybe the scientific argument is right. Maybe it has something to do with the balls. They have been swinging since last year. Pakistan finally beat Australia in a Test - in a 'home' series in England - last year and it was down to the utter ineptitude of their batsmen that they didn't win one more against England. The England bowlers loved those balls so much that they are still using the last year's batch. James Anderson was outstanding all season and never more devastating than at Trent Bridge, where he bowled Pakistan out for 80.
India might have occasion to rue those runs they conceded to the last two wickets. Trent Bridge is well and truly Anderson's turf. With 29 wickets here at just over 15.00, he is the highest wicket-taker at this ground in the last decade, comfortably ahead of Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff. While India can look back on the day as mission accomplished after restricting England to 221, a scrap lies ahead. Nearly a decade ago, Dravid battled the swinging ball for a nearly a day to set up a seminal victory at Headingley. His vigil at the end of the day, vital as it was, is only the beginning of the job. India will need something quite special to keep this series truly alive.
But irrespective of whichever way the Test goes, it is likely that the connoisseurs of the game will go rewarded. Swing is in the air, and along with legspin, it ranks as one of most attractive bowling sights. Besides, to watch batsmen earn their keep is a refreshing change.
Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo