England v India, 4th npower Test, The Oval, 2nd day August 19, 2011

Confident England have never had it so good

In the past eight months, the humiliation England have heaped on their two highest-profile opponents has been devastating
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Under cloudless skies and with their expectation levels at rock-bottom, India somehow opened the second day at The Oval with their best hour of cricket in approximately 21 sessions - dating back to Stuart Broad's seminal spell on the second day at Nottingham. By the end of it, however, they'd been condemned to another unquantifiable nadir, as England's punishing discipline and gargantuan appetite for runs made a mockery of that Test ranking that has long since been relinquished.

If India cannot pull out of their tailspin and claw something back from this game, they will have slipped to No. 3 in the world, with the prospect of facing the newly chastened Australians in the winter - who, if today's far-reaching Argus Report is anything to go by, have at least licked their Ashes wounds and set about the healing process with clean bandages. Whether England can sustain their current intensity will be a question for future Tests on different continents - and on this showing why shouldn't they? - but in the past eight months, the humiliation they have heaped on their two highest-profile opponents has been devastating.

It can now be said, without equivocation, that English cricket has never had it so good, for the stats they've amassed are simply incapable of lying. Last week at Edgbaston, Alastair Cook made a career-best 294 as England passed 700 for the first time in 73 years; today at The Oval, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell battered their way to an English third-wicket record stand of 350, the 14th triple-century stand in England's 915 Tests, and yet their third in the space of 13.

And what of tomorrow, when Bell will resume on 181 not out, with a chance of posting England's seventh double-century in the past 15 months, and beyond that, potentially something even more extraordinary? With seven wickets in hand and, tellingly, a nightwatchman at the crease, it's safe to assume that a declaration flurry is a long way off yet. "Bat once, bat deep" has been the motto all summer long, and there's precisely no reason to tinker with that formula with nine sessions remaining.

Pietersen was a self-satisfied man at the close, and with every imaginable reason. The angst that surrounded his long and laborious return to form has been forgotten, now that he's amassed three of his four highest scores in the space of 15 knocks. "I don't think we're surprising ourselves," he said, "because if you look how hard this team has worked in the last two years, the wheel has to turn and we're very lucky to all be dovetailing. If someone misses out, someone else gets the runs and that's what good teams do."

The one troubling performance of England's day was a plod of an innings from their only misfiring batsman, Andrew Strauss, who nudged two runs in an hour before swiping a drive to the keeper. However, as any Indian who is currently longing for the days of Sanjay Bangar will testify, there are several ways to build towards a Test victory. By the time Strauss departed with the morning drinks break looming, that new ball was 38 overs old, and ripe for a hammering from two batsmen who love nothing better than raising the tempo of an innings.

"One of the principles our team lives by is using up as much of the new ball as possible," said Pietersen. "We aim to get opposition bowlers into their third, fourth and fifth spells, because then we know we will end up with some opportunities for big scores." He didn't actively name-check Strauss in his explanation, but the inference was clear enough. This is a team with a plan, and right now it's all coming together.

Stopping England scoring runs at the moment is like catching custard in a sieve. It can happen occasionally, but eventually it all floods through, and today it was the turn of the two most aesthetically pleasing players in the team to scoop their fingers into the bowl. Whereas Cook's incredible 294 at Edgbaston prompted Shane Warne to tweet he'd never seen anything so dull, no such accusations could be flung in Bell and Pietersen's direction, as they thrilled a sun-soaked crowd with the purity of their performance.

With their contrasting heights and complementary approaches, Bell and Pietersen simply love batting together. That much was apparent way back in Faisalabad in 2005, when both men combined to score their second Test hundreds, but in the past five alliances - 116, 71, 110, 162 and now 350 - their returns have gone through the roof. At Adelaide during the Ashes, Bell's quick feet provided the perfect foil for a newly carefree KP, as Australia were butchered past the 600 mark; at Southampton in June, they provided a rain-dampened fixture with one of the sprightly stands of the summer.

In the past it could be said that Bell tended to shadow his more demonstrative partner, not least during their 286-run stand at Lord's in 2008, when Bell slipped along to his highest Test score of 199 while South Africa were pre-occupied with the performance of their former countryman. Since the injury to Jonathan Trott, however, Bell has had no place to hide at No. 3, and crucially, nor has he sought to for an instant. He outgrew No. 6 with incredible speed during the Ashes, and now, with two 150-plus scores in his last three innings at first drop, he's letting it be known that No. 5 is beneath him as well.

"Belly's been magnificent over the last 12-18 months," said Pietersen. "He's grown as a person, he's matured so much, and I love the fact he's scoring his runs so fluently. He's so pleasing on the eye when he's batting, and it's just nice that he's gone to his 16th Test hundred. The hard work he's put in since [being dropped on] the Windies tour is paying dividends.

"We have contrasting styles," he added. "I'm taller, he's shorter, and I batted pretty successfully with Paul Collingwood in the same way. Balls that he drove were really full balls for me, balls that I drove were nice punchy balls for Colly. It's a pretty similar story, and long may it continue."

England's current onslaught is relentless. In their last 20 Tests, dating back to the tour of Bangladesh in March 2010, they have amassed 33 hundreds - 21 of which have either been undefeated or in excess of 147 - and on only two occasions, at Edgbaston against Pakistan and during Mitchell Johnson's Test at Perth, have they failed to reach three figures. India, by contrast, have yet to amass a team total in excess of 288 in six attempts on this tour.

"There's lots of swing, lots of seam, and it's going to spin miles tomorrow," said Pietersen. "In the first couple of sessions it's going to be flat, and then when we bowl it's going to be all over the shop." He said it with a smile, but the scary thing is he almost certainly believed it. The confidence of this outfit knows no bounds right now.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • keshav021 on August 21, 2011, 6:35 GMT

    For all those England Fans.. FYI... England is playing at home and ofcourse have home advantage... Now had it been England playing in India.. it would have been different story. Now I'm not supporting India performance..they should have performed like number# 1 team... as they are on a verge of a whitewash they don't deserve to be a Top Team... and rightly so its gone. Now if england claims to be number#1 than they have win series abroad (subcontinent) not in england. Any top team should win across countries and than claim that top like Australia ruled for years...

  • 5wombats on August 20, 2011, 21:54 GMT

    @ABD1; thank you. @CptMeanster - arrogance is when someone bigs up their own team at the expense of the other. The wombats (almost) never do that. Instead they look for crowing, inconsistencies and lack of evidence. They have had to endure plenty of crowing and silliness from one or two indian fans for months. That crowing, for example; "I strongly believe England don't have the team to beat Asian teams away from home. They will definitely struggle in India in the heat and spinning conditions" is irritating and requires rebuttal. Also comments like; "The bowling relies too much on swing and cold-cloudy conditions" - this is also utter rubbish unsubstantiated by the facts. By the way - how was being a neutral fan for you?

  • RohanMarkJay on August 20, 2011, 21:42 GMT

    @ Valavan Well Said, I like the way Sri Lankans play their cricket. But the very good bowling attack on home soil they had in the last 20 years is no more. Whats coming through apart from Ajantha Mendis and he is nowhere near as good as a vaas or a Murali or Malinga. What they have now isn't very inspiring, SL fans like Indian fans can come on here and talk big about their chances. Then they attack me with their silly comments, I am a big fan of Sri Lankan cricket, so they need to talk proper cricket sense for a change. It seems these comment boards are for them to just attack other commenter. Sri Lanka has still a very good one day side but do they have equally good test side that is the question. Can their bowlers take 20 English wickets. I doubt it. More likely England can take 20 Sri Lankan wickets. Now that is the facts. Now don't come back at me and say thrashed Eng convincingly in the WC QF 2011 in Colombo, it has no relevance to test cricket whatsoever. Please talk sense.

  • aracer on August 20, 2011, 16:19 GMT

    @Chokkashokka - maybe you should wait to see India bat before deciding how much of a feather bed it is. As for the conditions becoming much more difficult when India are batting - there may just be a simpler explanation for that than your conspiracy theories! Oh, and I doubt very much that BCCI would be keen to test the bench strength of the squads - not given that England have lost a couple of their best players and nobody seems to have noticed ;)

  • bigben_bigben on August 20, 2011, 12:43 GMT

    Good lord, some of the comments here by delusional English fans, you would think that this England team is the West Indies team of the 80's. Admitted that India has stunk up the joint, but its more to do with the lousy show by the Indians than any performance like the Windies.

    You think every other team in the world is shaking in their boots at the prospect of playing England?? Ask SA, Aussie, SL or Pak fans. India will be ready for you when you tour next year for tests. If you can hold on to the No. 1 spot for 2-3 years (forget a decade like the Windies or Aussies), I will be the first to eat my words and acknowledge England deserve to be counted among the great all time teams.

    I can understand the euphoria of Eng fans, but lets get some sense of proportion here.

  • bumsonseats on August 20, 2011, 12:37 GMT

    give it a rest why do u allow posters with the same old comments but not the guys who thinks it mundane. strauss was 6 and prior 11, when they movd to the UK and both with a english parent so please tell me how they cannot play for england. stop all this sour grapes garbage. dpk

  • hhillbumper on August 20, 2011, 12:35 GMT

    to all the fans on here saying England aren't number 1 because they have not won in India.Well you aint won in England this time and have not won in Australia.So stroll on.You can harp on about WC but what will happen during the next wc.

  • mrhamilton on August 20, 2011, 11:46 GMT

    The indians got to number 1 on merit...the same bowlers did it for them overseas in south africa and west indies. Ishant sharma and praveen kumar looked world class in windies and sreesanth was a aggressive explosive albeit at 79mph in south africa. I think Sanjay mangrerkar is whinging too much about "this indian attack being ordinary with zack and bargy" ...well hello harbajan played in 2 tests and was dire, and dont give me that he was off form he was fine in the windies. The fact is ishant, munaf and sreesanth are decent medium-fast bowlers and have served their country....against THIS england batting side in this form they were always going to be hammered even with ZACK....sadly now the indians are making excuses......worringly who is on the horizon....up in lucknow Ghookar Khutia may be the fastest indian bowler since srinath but no one has heard of him and where is the next great spinner? J S Milkanathan maybe?

  • andrew-schulz on August 20, 2011, 11:17 GMT

    Yorkshire86, India did n ot win that series in Australia, and never have won a series in Australia. And what are you talking about when you tell us Australia are hosting England? It doesn't happen for over 3 years now! 5 wombats you can yawn all you want. Most of the statements you are yawning at are totally correct.

  • GULNATHANI on August 20, 2011, 10:57 GMT

    INDIA EXPOSED: Reason for failures: 1. The team is aging 2. Lack of bowling talent 3. India has never been a good team outside India and the sub-continent 4. Delusion of grandeur (megalomania) 5. internal rift in the team 6. Not knowing how to adjust to fast pitch 7. IPL mentality 8. Dhonism is failing PREDCITION: Spot # 4 by the end of the year. Gulzar Nathani

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