England v India, 3rd Investec Test, Ageas Bowl, 2nd day July 28, 2014

Encouragement for England - but no more

Gary Ballance, Ian Bell and Jos Buttler piled on the pain for India but luck played its part and judgement should be reserved for tougher tests

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It seems churlish to find fault. It feels like going to a wedding and pointing out that almost a third of marriages end in divorce and that the cake will make you fat. But England would be guilty of wishful thinking if they concluded that all their problems are over after a couple of good days in the office.

Let's be clear: England's batting on the first two days of the third Investec Test at the Ageas Bowl was admirable. They established a strong platform through the top three and they accelerated intelligently and selflessly as the innings progressed. The return to form of Ian Bell was welcome and Jos Buttler provided a reminder that he has an unusual ability to destroy bowling and an exciting future. Gary Ballance, meanwhile, underlined the impression that whatever batting records Alastair Cook sets, he may well break them.

And, just as excuses are largely irrelevant in defeat, so caveats should be in success. If England made use of a flat pitch and a jaded attack, it is because they earned those conditions: by electing to bat and wearing down the bowlers, they partially created the environment in which they flourished. For many months, they have been criticised for failing to score 400 in an innings - they failed to do so between March 2013 and June 2014 - so to do so three times in the last eight innings is a welcome sign of progress. You might even conclude that there were shades of the 2011 series in the day's play.

But… when players go through poor patches, they generally suggest that they are focusing on their "processes" and not allowing themselves to worry too much about the outcomes. In short, they are working hard and hoping for the best.

So it is probably wrong to judge a performance solely on the outcome. Just as a batsman, or even a team, can be undone by unplayable bowling, so they can be gifted runs by dreadful bowling. We are fools to judge them as heroes or villains on such evidence. The best players are sometimes the ones good enough to edge the best deliveries.

The truth is that, one of the key differences in this innings to some of the others this summer, was that England enjoyed better fortune. Had Cook not been dropped on 15, had Bell and Buttler been given out on 0 (replays suggested Bell was lbw on the first day but were inconclusive in regard to a low slip catch offered by Buttler), then the scenario would have been very different. England would have played no differently, but the result would have been radically altered.

This was a performance that taught us almost nothing about the main protagonists. Just as we already knew that Cook was a determined character, we also knew that Bell timed the ball sweetly and that Buttler could be destructive.

But it did not answer more pressing questions. It did not, for example, answer whether Buttler, who was also reprieved on 23 and 59, when MS Dhoni missed a stumping, had the defensive game to prosper at this level. Aged 23 and drafted into the team early due to the decline of Matt Prior, Buttler needs a prolonged run in the side to allow him a chance to acclimatise at this level. But his early nervousness outside off stump did suggest there will be times when he will require patience if he is to achieve his undoubted potential.

It did not answer whether Cook has answered his technical problems outside off stump. And it did not answer whether Bell, now the senior man in the middle-order, can rise to the challenge presented to him by the absence of Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott and become the man England rely upon in crisis.

If that sounds churlish, it should be remembered this was Bell's first century in 20 Test innings and a couple of weeks short of a year. And, while it was a beautiful, skilful and important innings, it came when a platform had already been established; he came to the crease with the score 213-2. While Bell was magnificent during the Ashes of 2013, his struggles since have only provoked reminders of his earlier struggles to perform when the pressure was at its greatest.

Even Ballance will experience far more testing conditions. He has responded superbly to the challenge of being asked to bat No. 3 and could hardly have been asked to achieve more. But he has enjoyed a succession of benign pitches this summer and will surely face more exacting scrutiny of his ability in the subcontinent or in Australia.

None of this means that these players will not meet those challenges. But it does mean that we should reserve judgement on the new-look England side until they have faced

To be fair to England, they capitalised handsomely on their luck. Bell provided a masterclass in playing spin bowling, disrupting India's plans by attacking Ravindra Jadeja and, after a nervous start, punishing the impressive Pankaj Singh and the slightly off-colour Mohammed Shami.

Bell both skipped down the wicket and went deep into his crease to disrupt Jadeja's lengths and, in between some handsome lofted drives, also swept cleverly. And if Buttler is, at this stage, a blunter weapon, the manner in which he pulled short balls and reverse swept full ones suggested a talent that could, in time, win many games for England. A less selfless batsman would have played for a century on debut rather than attempted to set-up the declaration.

So this was, without doubt, an encouraging day for England. But far tougher challenges lie ahead and it might prove optimistic to conclude a corner has been turned just yet.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo