England v India, 5th Investec Test, The Oval, 3rd day August 17, 2014

England emerge from the darkness

Having been in chaos three Tests ago, England can take credit, pride and encouragement from this result

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#politeenquiries: Do India need more Test cricket?

Perhaps the darkest hour really is right before dawn. Exactly a month since England succumbed to one of the more depressing Test defeats of recent years at Lord's, they clinched the Investec series with a crushing victory at The Oval. It is their first series victory in a year.

Any celebration must be tempered by the knowledge that India offered painfully weak opposition. We knew before they arrived that their away record was poor, but to succumb to a second successive innings defeat - this victory was the fifth biggest, in terms of innings margins, England have achieved - to be bowled out within a session's worth of cricket, to fail to reach 200 in any of their last five innings, tells a sorry tale of a side ill-prepared for a Test series in these conditions and chronically lacking in confidence. England will face far tougher challenges.

Until they alter their priorities, until they start to value Test cricket more than the revenue they make from other formats, India are unlikely to provide healthy competition.

Such an impression is confirmed by the rankings. England are likely to be placed third when the new list is announced, a long way behind South Africa and Australia and only just ahead of Pakistan. They face all three teams in 2015, with the series against Pakistan and South Africa to be played away from home. By the end of next year, we will have a far clearer indication of England place in the new world order.

Nobody thinks this is the end of the journey. Nobody think England have arrived. Nobody think Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson are quaking in their boots.

But there is sometimes a temptation to downplay England's successes. To explain them away. To suggest that they are hopeless when they lose, but that their victories only come against hopeless teams.

That is a little unfair. This victory has come against an India team that played beautifully at Lord's; that harnessed English conditions better than England. An Indian team that is the best financed in world cricket; that represents the most populous cricket-playing nation. A team that contains several highly talented batsmen - the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli - who most expect to go on and enjoy wonderful careers. A team that contains two other technically excellent batsmen - Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane - and a seam attack - Varun Aaron, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma, in particular - who performed admirably without support from their awful slip fielders.

So, from where they were, at the end of the Lord's Test, England can take credit, pride and encouragement in this performance. After Lord's, England had lost seven of their previous nine Tests. They had won none of their last 10. There were doubts about the position of the captain, the wicketkeeper, the spinner and a couple of the seamers. There was growing clamour for the resignation of Alastair Cook and the recall of Kevin Pietersen. They were in chaos.

They have learned a great deal since then. They learned that their young batsmen - Joe Root, Gary Ballance and Jos Buttler - have what it takes to flourish at Test level. While they will face sterner tests, it would be no surprise if that trio spent a decade in this side. Their slip catching may also win a few games.

They were reminded of the value of continuity of selection. They found that Moeen Ali, Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes all began to perform more consistently once they felt a little more established within the side. They learned that Moeen has the skill and character to prosper, that Woakes and Jordan, excellent on the final day, can offer the support James Anderson and Stuart Broad require.

They were reminded, too, of the value of using home conditions. After the first three Tests of the summer were played on slow, low, lifeless surfaces, England squandered more benevolent conditions at Lord's. But from then they dominated in conditions offering movement and just enough bounce to test the opposition batsmen's technique and temperament.

While there may be a temptation to prepare more lifeless surfaces ahead of the Ashes next year - the sort of surfaces designed to negate Mitchell Johnson et al - it must be resisted. For their morale, if nothing else, England need to feel they can hurt opposition with the ball. If the ball swings or the pitches offer seam, they have a chance next summer.

And they learned, if there was any doubt, that their captain is a man of rare determination.

Some questions remain. Not least, the form of the opening batsmen. Cook has not made a Test century in 31 innings and, even after three half-centuries in four innings, the sense remains that it is his luck that has turned rather than his form. He and Sam Robson will have to contribute far more if England are to continue to climb back up the Test rankings.

There will be some bleak days in 2015. There will be days when Buttler drops chances that Matt Prior, at his best, might have caught. There will be days when Moeen struggles to retain control, when Woakes struggles for potency and when the middle order show their relative inexperience.

But England have shown in the last month that they are heading in the right direction. If they hold their course, if they stick to their plans and retain faith in one another, this need not be the high point on their journey.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Clifford on August 20, 2014, 19:40 GMT

    I disagree with saying Ballance, Cook and Robson are the same kind of player. The things that impresses me most about Ballance is his ability to adjust his play to the circumstances which for a #3 is really important (as it is for a #5 and #6). The only reason to move him to 4 is so he bats with Root more which is a combination I really like for England. What England need is a more dynamic opener. I don't think Robson is the answer and while Carberry played relatively well in Australia he seemed stodgy (he may be totally different in County cricket - I don't know). Nick Compton maybe? I guess that was the idea with trying Root at opener but I think he's doing well at 5 so why fiddle. I don't think England need someone who'll smash it about but they need somebody who can get opening bowlers off their plans: scamper some singles, get it into spaces etc.

  • Clifford on August 20, 2014, 19:11 GMT

    "They learned that their young batsmen - Joe Root, Gary Ballance and Jos Buttler - have what it takes to flourish at Test level. While they will face sterner tests, it would be no surprise if that trio spent a decade in this side. Their slip catching may also win a few games. "

    While I like George Dobell especially on video this sort of hyperbolic tripe is too common in his writing... Be realistic, ten years of International cricket at the pace England play is 150+ Tests and probably 250+ ODIs, who does that? In the case of Ballance and Buttler that's on the strength of less than a season of cricket. I do think Ballance and Root are fixed in people's minds but in a couple years they may be retiring from burnout or chronically injured.

  • Jon on August 18, 2014, 19:59 GMT

    @Yorkshirepudding, I am precisely the England fan you speak about and this side has done little to change it. Lets be honest, India were woeful and we did enough. The bowling looked ok but for us to really compete with the big boys we need Finn fit and firing and Woakes or Jordan need to go for Stokes. As for Ali whilst his bowling looked ok I still don't see him consistently taking wickets but we can't grumble too much given he did a good job. I still think we need an out and out spinner especially when we go to play in the sub continent. In terms of batting Cook and Robson both look to have techincal deamons. Ballance was excellent but I worry about his technique against off spin on the sub continent. I watched him play Senanyanke and thought he looked very leaden footen. Bell, IMO will come good he has a track record of success but needs to find form somewhere. Root, I have no issue with too I think he will succeed wherever he plays.

  • Dummy4 on August 18, 2014, 16:00 GMT

    @cricketmonster Erm...Duncan Fletcher isn't English.

  • Dummy4 on August 18, 2014, 15:57 GMT

    Cricket monster.. did u ever notice indian batsmen has major technical flaws which the media tries to hide and over-glorify the team rather? did you notice india wanted a two tier test not too long ago, even losing the worst possible ways in last three years? dont blame foreing coaches for which india themselves are incompetent of.

  • R on August 18, 2014, 15:39 GMT

    @yorkshirepudding… Bell is a senior player and has 1 (fortuitous) ton in over 12 months, 22+inns, that's just not good enough… you mention a couple of 50s… Big deal.. Blimey Jimmy nearly has that this summer !! Bell is not doing his job and so needs to be replaced, especially as the younguns are doing so well… Not scarred (or scared) after the winter… You mention JT's average… We all know that if coaches/selectors went by county aves (luckily they don't) then we would not have seen superb players like Vaughan & Tresco at test level but to name 2 so pls don't bang on about county aves… JT should replace Bell asap, and it's Emperors New Clothes to think otherwise…

  • ESPN on August 18, 2014, 15:27 GMT

    Let's face it England didn't really learn a great deal from one of the worst touring performances of all time after the Lords test as was worse than England themselves during the Ashes. Point being that yes Cook , Robson , Ballance got a few runs at the top 3 but the problem lies where they are all basically the exact same type of player. And against the top attacks like SA and Aus well they simply won't get anything to hit and will just get bogged down which will just lead to pressure. I'd swap Ballance to 4 and Bell to 3 like everyone in the media was asking for. Plus Cook will be stumped again once plan A isn't working as he didn't have to do any captaining at all the Indians were that bad. Trying not to take anything away from England winning well as suppose you can only beat what's in front of you.

  • Khehla on August 18, 2014, 15:17 GMT

    Perhaps one does not tinker with a winning combination. That said, the caveat to that is unless it's to improve the team. Thus, England need a new opening partner for Cook, Robson has a couple of technical faults to sort. Ballance will be tested by better attacks, looks a lbw candidate. Root will be tested with the fuller outswinger forcing him to play on the front foot which he doesn't seem as keen but he's a wonderful talent and will probably pass that test. Moeen's bowling and batting are still works in progress. Buttler has a lot of work with his keeping and there'll be tougher assignments with the bat. As good Jordan and Woakes are surely Stokes and Finn should to be the bowlers to support Jimmy and Broad. Cook's form needs to improve and he seems to have less shots @ his arsenal than during the English tour of India when he was sweeping, so he needs news shots can't survive with just 3. And looking forward to the "coming-of-age" of Bell for the umpteenth time.

  • Dummy4 on August 18, 2014, 15:08 GMT

    @YorkshirePudding on (August 18, 2014, 14:12 GMT):

    Yes; I have to concede to your point. W/K-batsmen, who can hide their flaws in keeping, with their stroke play, are wielding double edged swords. They can cut opposition bowling to shreds. But, the same swords can cut the other way, if and when the flow of runs dries up. Media would be the first one to grab those swords. Fans who are looking for the glitz and blitz of stroke play will follow suit.

    I thought, Bairstow wasn't given enough chances, for lack of runs. I may be wrong. If right, I don't agree with the policy of giving priority for batting over keeping... even if teams are looking for two-in-ones. I am part of the old school craving for specialist wicket-keepers, especially in tests. I do miss the Allan Knotts; a rare species now!.

  • Charles on August 18, 2014, 14:53 GMT

    All very interesting for the future and even the ODI series will be extremely important. Finn will surely get his chance in the ODI series to show what he can do which gives yet another option and also Hales may put down a massive marker to open in all formats .

    Other news is that Monty has taken some wickets today which is great news if he can sustain it.

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