|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Shop||Mobile|
Instead of the joyless England side we have seen in recent times we saw a team with renewed vigour and belief and they go into the final two days with a chance of forcing victory
George Dobell at the Ageas Bowl
July 29, 2014
#politeenquiries: Is Kohli no more than a flat track bully?
It was the sort of draining day on which tempers can flare and disagreements brew. It was the sort of pitch on which seamers can lose heart and sides - particularly those without a win in almost a year - can lose confidence. And India have the sort of batting line-up which can make bowlers wish they had become plumbers or matadors or, most of all, batsmen.
But despite the climbing temperatures and the rising total, England's bowlers produced one of their best performances of the summer on the third day at the Ageas Bowl. And, whatever the bald figures on the scorecard might show, England's senior bowlers led the way admirably.
It was not perfect. Perhaps James Anderson could have pitched the ball up another six inches; perhaps a couple of tough chances might have been taken in the slips and certainly Chris Jordan looks nervous upon his return to the team - dropping a man after two Tests can do that.
But on another flat pitch offering little to bowlers of any description, England can feel well satisfied that they go into the final two days of the game with a chance of forcing victory.
But the game is not entirely safe. With England reluctant to enforce the follow-on even if it is an option, Alastair Cook will face an intriguing test of his captaincy if he has to make a declaration on the fourth afternoon. His bowlers are keen to put their feet up for a minimum of 40 overs on day four.
Cook will know his team needs the best part of four sessions to bowl out India on this surface. But he will also know that setting such a proficient ODI side anything less than 400 in around 120 overs is something of a risk. However much England need the victory, the thought of going 2-0 down in this series is likely to have a sobering effect.
Such issues can wait. After three days, England can feel encouraged that, for the first time since the change of coach, there appeared to be signs of progress in the development of the new-look team.
While it would be wrong to read too much into a couple of days of cricket, it does seem that a slight change of approach - a temperamental as much as a tactical change - has seen England playing a more positive, more effective brand of cricket.
Certainly that was the view of Stuart Broad. On the day that Broad, who bowled immaculately, and Anderson, who bowled with pace and skill, became one of a select group of fast bowlers to take 500 Test wickets in partnership with one another.
Many regard them as the third such fast-bowling partnership to reach the landmark pair after Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh and Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis - although it is a somewhat notional statistic and it can also be contended that Jacques Kallis should also be included twice for his partnerships both with Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini.
Instead of the joyless England side we have seen in recent times - a side that have sometimes seemed resigned to spending several sessions in the field even as they mark their run-outs for the first time - we saw a team with renewed vigour and belief. We saw a team with a short-leg instead of a square leg. We saw a team retain a full slip cordon instead of a third man and sweeper and we saw a team use the short ball, not so much to avoid being driven, but as a shock delivery to prevent the batsmen simply propping forward.
True, the results were not immediately apparent. But to take seven wickets in a day on this pitch was no mean effort. With Anderson gaining swing throughout the day and using the short ball effectively, Broad maintaining a McGrath-like line and length and Chris Woakes, improved in discipline and pace, adding reliable support, pressure built upon the Indian batsmen leading to what might appear, out of context, some inexplicable strokes. The accumulative effects of scoreboard pressure and demanding bowling should never be underestimated.
Broad also credited the advice of the coach, Peter Moores, with inspiring the revived performance.
"Before this Test, Mooresy came to a few of us and said 'just go and express yourself'," Broad said. "He said 'Don't worry about having to take responsibility, just go and play, like it's your first Test'. I think that's shone through a little bit. I know it freed me up a little bit. Everyone was having a laugh; everyone had smiles on their faces and I think that showed in our cricket. We kept the energy up throughout the whole day. We were brilliant."
It is not surprising that England had lost confidence in recent times. The disappointment - shellshock, even - of their Ashes defeat and the departure of several players who had become fixtures in the dressing room had sapped some of the belief out of the side. If players as reliable as Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior could fall to the ravages of time and fate, then no one was safe.
But such thoughts had to be banished. And Broad, at least, felt the side were working their way back towards the more positive brand of cricket that earned them success against India in the 2011 series.
"Personally, I am an attacking cricketer and maybe I had fallen into a defensive mindset," Broad explained. "Today was about leaving the past behind and just going and expressing yourself.
"I think maybe the senior players have put too much pressure on themselves after what, since the Durham Test, has been a pretty tough run. Maybe we got a bit uptight.
"We went to Australia and had a tough time of it. Maybe my own mindset had become quite defensive. I had to bowl defensively in Australia and maybe I brought that it into the start of this summer.
"But you saw, I used a short leg today. I had that attacking mindset. I'm at my best when I'm attacking and playing with flair. I'm an attacking player who fell into a defensive mindset thinking square leg will save runs but actually, let's get some wickets."
It was noticeable, too, that Anderson has been a far less vocal cricketer since being charged by the ICC. Gone is the muttering at the batsmen; gone is the posturing; gone is everything other than the skilful bowler with more than 350 Test wickets. It has not rendered his bowling any less potent.
"We're in a great position in this Test," Broad said. "We hope the wicket will deteriorate a little bit. But we created pressure throughout the day and, though it looked as if Moeen Ali picked up his wickets with freebies, I think that was out of the pressure he'd developed. We got our rewards at the end of the day."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
|Comments have now been closed for this article
Bowlers who have been around for plenty of time but haven't played in cricket's biggest show
A look at some of cricket's most memorable strokes - and their makers