England v India, 4th Investec Test, Old Trafford, 3rd day August 9, 2014

England jigsaw coming together

England's upswing has been pleasing for a number of reasons - but there are still ways in which the system could work better

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Any victory would have been welcome. After the disappointment of Australia and the drubbing at Lord's, any sign that England had turned a corner was going to be greeted with relief.

But for England to win so convincingly, for England to win consecutive Tests for the first time since July 2013, for England to win within three days after losing the toss and with their younger players contributing so significantly, represented a genuine and heartening step forward in the development of this new-look side.

We should be cautious about reaching too many conclusions. That India lost nine wickets in 23 overs after tea on a blameless pitch spoke volumes about a side that was mentally broken. That a captain as experienced as MS Dhoni would charge down the pitch and slog to midwicket when he must have known that poor weather was forecast for days four and five was a dereliction of duty that will prove hard to justify.

Not since 2005 have India scored fewer runs in a Test and not since 1967 have they been defeated by England in three days. Whatever the rights and the wrongs of the Anderson-Jadeja incident, it appears to have distracted India and they have, arguably at least, won only one of the last 21 sessions of cricket between the sides. Suffice to say, England will face far tougher opposition.

But it is not long since England were thrashed by this India team at Lord's. And it not long since England bemoaned their lack of spin options and their lack of keeping options. It is not long since the doubts over Alastair Cook's future and the remnants of the Kevin Pietersen debacle dominated coverage of the team. So it now seems safe to conclude, albeit with some caveats, that a few pieces of the jigsaw are coming together for England.

The most pleasing aspect of this performance is not that Stuart Broad and James Anderson were close to their best with the ball. And it is not that Ian Bell looked something close to his best with the bat. While the contribution of such senior players was welcome, it should also be expected.

No, the most pleasing aspect was the contribution of the younger players who continue to deliver under pressure and continue to offer huge promise for the future.

The final day of this Test presented a significant challenge for them. The lead was still small at the start of the day and the experienced batsmen had already been dismissed. But Joe Root and Jos Buttler, two 23-year-olds with bright futures, first saw off the bowlers at their freshest and then accelerated against the second new ball and a seam attack lacking experience.

After showing his aggression at Southampton, Buttler showed his ability to defend here. It was not faultless - he was dropped on 34 and should have been run-out on 44 - but he has now contributed exactly the sort of innings required for his team in both his Test innings. It will be worth remembering such achievements when he has the inevitable less bright days.

Root, too, may face tougher challenges on quicker pitches and against better attacks. But he is fast developing into England's middle-order rock: capable of defending or accelerating as required and blessed with the change of gear to render him immensely value. He has already enjoyed a golden summer and there seems no reason it should be an aberration.

Then, with Broad unavailable, Anderson unwell - he was off the pitch for more than half an hour - and there being little lateral movement available for the bowlers, there was some pressure on the attack. They knew that the weather forecasts were poor and they knew that they might have only two sessions available in which to win this game. And, largely, they delivered.

It was not a perfect performance. While Chris Woakes produced a fine delivery to account for M Vijay - those who suggested he could only bowl the outswinger must have been surprised by the one that nipped back - and Chris Jordan ended the game with a nice bouncer-yorker combination, both young seamers struggled for the requisite consistency. England were blessed that Anderson, despite his illness, was able to take two top-order wickets: he has now bowled 30 balls at Virat Kohli in this series and dismissed him four times for a cost of seven runs.

But Moeen Ali continues to improve and impress in equal measure. The pace at which he bowls, the drift he achieves and the turn he can generate should render him an asset on any surface. He remains a work in progress - and continues to work on his doosra - but he has now become, in terms of days, the quickest England offspinner in history to 20 Test wickets: it took him 58 days. For a few minutes in mid-afternoon, his bowling average even dropped below that of his friend and mentor, Saeed Ajmal.

It is customary to only look for areas in which to improve in times of defeat. But if England really want to improve, if they want to make success the norm and not the exception, there are several areas in which they need to improve to give it the best chance of success. They are:

  • The Championship needs to be trusted and valued. It has, once again, produced a side that has taken to Test cricket quickly. But if the ECB keeps diluting it with Lions games, young player incentives and the like, the production line could be jeopardised.

  • The Championship schedule needs to be amended so that there are games throughout the season, not just at the start and end. This will provide more opportunities for spinners and test batsmen and bowlers in a variety of conditions. Domestic T20 could still be played on Friday nights; domestic List A cricket could still be played on Sundays. County squads need to be deep enough to play Championship cricket from Monday to Thursday.

  • Groundsmen need to be encouraged and trusted to produce pitches that offer pace, bounce or spin at times. At present, with groundsmen facing judgement from assessors every day, they tend to play safe with slow, low surfaces which provide assistance to modest seamers and bear little comparison to international cricket.

  • Unorthodoxy needs to be encouraged. What England still call "mystery" spin is a mystery no longer in most of the Test-playing world and, while a bowler like Lasith Malinga has proved good enough to win global events for Sri Lanka, such a young bowler emerging in England would probably still have the genius coached out of him.

  • The new ball is currently due after 80 overs in Championship cricket. It may well encourage spinners and make seamers work a little harder, if that was pushed back to 90 or even 100 overs.

  • The schedule of individual players needs to be monitored. While it may well be unrealistic to expect a significant cut in the international schedule - the game is dependent on a certain level of income - the current demands on the top players are unsustainable. Those of the squad required in all three formats are expected to spend around 300 days a years in hotels in 2015. There is no way they can be expected to be at their best for that period.

  • In an attempt to encourage young, English-qualified players, the ECB lobbied for tougher work permit criteria for overseas, Kolpak registrations and the like in county cricket. Combined with the incentives brought in to encourage younger players, this has resulted in a dilution in the depth of quality of county cricket. That risks creating a larger gap between domestic and international cricket and may well need changing. As the example of Saeed Ajmal at Worcestershire shows us, there can be great value for England in the appearance of overseas players in county cricket.

  • In the longer-term, the lack of cricket on free-to-air television represents a serious threat to the development of new talent in England. Already, England are uncomfortably reliant on players from the private school system or those brought up, in part at least, abroad. With so many other sports competing to capture the imagination of young people, it is essential cricket finds a way to appeal more widely. A domestic knockout T20 competition, perhaps incorporating the minor counties, might be one method to appeal to areas currently left untouched.

The last couple of weeks have been hugely encouraging for England cricket. But the sense remains that, all too often, victory is in spite of part of the system and not because of it.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Francis on August 13, 2014, 15:23 GMT

    How about this? 1. England and the counties to have entirely separate squads for 1-day and longer-form cricket. Overlap only to happen in case of injuries. Counties allowed one overseas player for each squad per season. 2. Amalgamate England Lions, Performance squads etc. into England A and England B teams which play exclusively longer-form cricket. Similar system for 1-day cricket. 3. Championship matches spread throughout season. 50-over competition to cover first half of season, T20 in second half with finals day on the last day of the season - a fitting finish. 4. Partnerships between counties and local schools, where counties offer tickets at reduced rates to allow school parties to attend championship matches and have practice games. (Lancashire recently allocated Test Match tickets to local schools). This already happens to some extent, but every county needs a solid partnership with the schools to find talented youngsters and encourage general interest in the game.

  • John on August 11, 2014, 17:35 GMT

    @YorkshirePudding,you are 1 hundred percent correct,County Cricket doesn't require overseas players,all it requires is England qualified players.England qualified players should and must have first crack at County Championship Cricket irrespective of the available overseas players and their calibre.It all boils down to England qualified players should and must be at the head of the queue to play County Championship Cricket for the betterment of the England Test Side.

  • Dean on August 11, 2014, 15:57 GMT

    @Yorkshire Pud, Such a move certainly didn't happen in the 80's. Most of the leading players in world cricket played in the county system back then, Hadlee, Imran, Kapil, Richards, Garner,Holding, Marshall, Greenidge to name but a few. Most counties were also tied down to only playing 1 O/S player in each game when many had 2 players contracted to them. For instance I remmember Patrick Patterson & Wasim Akram both being at Lancs for the whole season, with only 1 allowed to play the other had to have a run out in the second XI. I also don't think it was too medicore in the 90s. Although it became more diffcult to get the big stars on long term contracts, there were some fantastic Aus players who cut their teeth here, such as Symonds, Hayden, Lehman & Langer. I don't think the reason Eng were doing badly in those days was because of the overseas players. IMO I would be happy to see more overseas players allowed per county providing they are of a certain calibre.

  • Jason on August 11, 2014, 13:23 GMT

    I disagree with the article on one main point and that is about increasing the number of overseas players, we tried that in the 80's and 90's under the auspice of making England qualified players better, it didn't work in fact it did exactly what we see happening with the English football team, mediocrity winning because clubs would rather bring in ready made talent rather than investing in developing that talent from the grass roots.

  • vinod on August 11, 2014, 11:10 GMT

    Fielding especially slip catching had been a big headache for India during this tour. At the same time one should take a leaf out of India "A' tour down under where the fielding was superb and India won the quadrilateral tournament. The coach Abhay Sharma did an excellent job in grooming the fielders. As the say is "Catches win Matches". We should seriously think upon paying special attention to the fielding in order to compete internationally. Given the present situation, it would be the most appropriate period to hire Abhay Sharma as the fielding coach. Given the way Indian batsmen succumbed to he English bowlers and treating Moeen Ali as Muralitharan, it would be nice to have a seasoned batting coach. The meek surrender of seasoned players like Kohli and Pujara points fingers at the necessity of more application at the centre. This would be possible only through specialised batting coach. Lalchand Rajput would be the best option under the given circumstances.

  • John on August 10, 2014, 19:23 GMT

    @ Mark1Mod0 ,while I appreciate your opinion that as County Members you wish to go back to the days of top rated overseas players because you want to watch the best.Alas I must disagree because even these top rated players are unfortunately going to take the place of England qualified players and this is the crux of the matter when you have 18 County Chairmen wanting what is best for their individual county and the E.C.B.wanting the best for England.I do understand County Members saying that once one of their players becomes Centrally Contracted to England they are hardly if ever available for their County,but surely by not allowing overseas players access to the County Scene it allows the next generation of England players to gain valuable playing experience in the next tier down from Test Match Cricket.Alas I'm afraid that this thorny problem will not be sorted in my lifetime because of the polarization of all sides of the coin.

  • Umar on August 10, 2014, 17:05 GMT

    England should not get any false signals from these 2 test wins. India is obviously not the best team. So defeating them is not so big achievement. England still need improvements and have weak links. Robson need to be replaces (possibly with Compton). Moeen Ali's batting need improvement. Pace bowling support (Woakes, Jordan) is not good.

  • Gary on August 10, 2014, 16:44 GMT

    Some excellent points made in this article, not least the way the County Championship is book-ended into the summer schedule. It annoys me that a large chunk of the English domestic season is now ring-fenced for T20 and 40/50-over matches, leaving the bulk of four-day games played in April/May and September. As a result, players in and around the England test side now have fewer opportunities in the midst of a series to get valuable match practice in the longer form of the game. The likes of Sam Robson, Ben Stokes and Chris Jordan could certainly have done with a county game in recent weeks.

  • Android on August 10, 2014, 16:34 GMT

    Ali has won my respect . At the beggining of the series I really thought he wasnt upto test standard bowling .He still may not be gpod enough to be a strike spinner but 15 + wickets in the series are good enough to keep him in the team as the main spinner till Riley takes over and if he improves his batting he can be a good allrounder for eng .

  • Mark on August 10, 2014, 16:27 GMT

    George, as usual an excellent assessment. My own impression is that the turnaround happened in that lost 2nd Test v Sri Lanka when, finally, with the match appearing lost, the side started to show some steel. Admittedly there have been one or two bumps on the way and some horrific sessions since then, but that was when I started to feel that things were beginning to turn around.

    Chris Woakes seems to be an unlucky bowler. He has bowled so much better than his figures. However, a bowler of ours called Fred had a similarly disappointing start but, when he got the confidence that he belonged, rapidly became unstoppable. He needs a big performance, as Moeen did, just to convince himself.

    Jos Buttler has, I admit, proved me wrong. I thought that it was too early, but he has taken his chance so well.

    In general, the youngsters need time to learn their trade on the job. Keep the faith with Robson & Jordan - they can only learn by playing & better in a winning side than cooling their heels.