England offer India a blueprint for revival
On a tour when much has rained down on India - bad planning, injuries, woeful form - the English summer skies finally opened up too. Play was washed out after lunch, probably in protest against the visitors' poor first session on the opening day of the Oval Test. It brought a halt to the one-sided proceedings after England's openers had motored along to 75 for no loss and set in motion more questions about where the Indian team was headed.
At the moment, in real terms, down the hatch. If this series has brought anything for Indian cricket, it would have to be the awareness that their golden age is slipping away faster than they imagined it would. To be in England when this is happening is fortuitous: India's opposition has given them indicators as to how turnarounds, while difficult, are neither impossible nor complicated. They may just take a while.
Ask Peter Moores, who coached England at their most tumultuous four years ago. Taking over from Duncan Fletcher, he headed straight into a commotion that looked like it belonged to an airport novel. Moores is widely regarded as the man who re-established the link between the first-class game and the England team, re-opening doors for James Anderson and Graeme Swann, introducing Ryan Sidebottom into the elite set-up and also hiring key members of his support staff: Andy Flower as batting coach, Ottis Gibson as bowling coach and Richard Halsall as fielding coach. Of the three, Gibson has left England to coach West Indies but Flower is now the alpha male of the support staff, with Halsall one of his deputies.
On the outside, however, Moores' 18 months with England looked like one dramatic turn of events after another: in the summer of 2007, India won their first series in England after 21 years, Michael Vaughan quit as captain in the middle of a series a year later and a theatrical bust-up with new captain Kevin Pietersen followed at the end of 2008 which resulted in both Moores and Pietersen being removed from their jobs.
Moores today coaches Lancashire, who are currently heading the County Championship table and are in line to win their first title since 1950 (when it was shared with Surrey), and he watches the England team with great satisfaction. He believes the links between the first-class game and the England set-up have played their own part in the rise to the No. 1 position.
"We see players come in from first-class cricket and do well straight away. Matthew Prior is one person who came up, we've seen Jonathan Trott come through, Eoin Morgan... I think you see many more players come into the England side and be successful. That's quite a big credit to county cricket."
The high standard was best reflected, he believed, in the opinion of the overseas pros in county cricket, "We've asked them [the overseas players] what they think of the standard and they say, it's strong, it's competitive. I think you need strong links between the two because the players at first-class level need to know what's expected of them if they go up to international cricket. I think those links have got stronger, and I think they need to stay stronger if England are going to remain the force in world cricket."
Along with the first-class feeder line he said elite teams needed good structures around them, "I don't think it's come by a fluke, there's been a lot of hard work behind the scenes and of course Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss have done a fantastic job to manage the side. In order to become successful, you need a good support structure and a lot of good support staff around you. You need good players and you need depth. What England have got now is not just good players within the team but they have also got depth outside."
From this position, England, he believes, wants to "leave a legacy and become one of the teams of this era. We've seen the West Indies do that, we've seen Australia do that, we've seen India dominate over the past couple of years. I think we'll see that England want to try and do that, to stay at No. 1. To do that, that needs a lot of hard work. The only way it will ever happen is if there's a drive and hunger within the set-up to do it. And it sounds like it is."
India's challenges, Moores says, lie not in any shortage of talent but in how it is identified and handled. India's big question was finding replacements for its high-quality Test batsmen. "Which batsmen are going to replace the quality of the likes of Tendulkar, Laxman, Dravid and their maturity as Test match players?" Moores says, "No one has done it yet, come from being a good one-day player into a good Test match player. So can the likes of Raina, or someone like that, fill the boots of some of those obviously outstanding Test match players? That is going to be the challenge for India over the coming time. India are always going to have a big pool to select from - they have got to make sure they select the right players."
The one England batsman Moores believes can become the best 'crossover' player from ODI to the Test format is Eoin Morgan. "Morgan is one person who has made his mark in ODI cricket, and has now established himself as a Test match player. If he comes through and ends up being a very good Test match player, he'd be the one who actually does it. The normal route is to become a good first-class player and then you adapt that game to the one-day game."
The lure of the shorter formats, Moores said, was powerful and "for every nation that wants to be strong in both formats, you have to try and make sure you create good opportunities for people to be successful for both formats. And that the incentives for Test match cricket remain strong enough for people to want to do the work to become a very good Test match player."
It is where India must look ahead, not merely four months down the road when they tour Australia but perhaps four years down the line, when they return to England.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo