Mark Nicholas
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Former Hampshire batsman; host of Channel 9's cricket coverage

England v India, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 5th day

Signs a corner has been turned by England

The hosts appeared to play with a different attitude at Trent Bridge. No longer was there a sense that the game owed them. They just got on with it and Alastair Cook played the match with a smile on his face

Mark Nicholas at Trent Bridge

July 13, 2014

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Alastair Cook cannot believe his luck as he picks up a wicket, England v India, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 5th day, July 13, 2014
Alastair Cook enjoyed a happy match which culminated in a first Test wicket © Getty Images
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After three absorbing matches, England have reason for encouragement. Five day matches are not called "Tests" for nothing. These have been stern examinations of character and, in the main, Alastair Cook's team have handled themselves well. At tea on the third day at Trent Bridge, the omens were not good but first Stuart Broad and then James Anderson combined with Joe Root to fly the flag for a conspicuously united and committed team.

The problem for England is skill, or the lack of it. Of three international class batsmen, only one, Joe Root, is playing as he can. Cook is not so much out of form - though that too, by definition - as seemingly unable to spring clean his technique. The longer you play and the more runs you make, the more your opponents find a way to break you down. By bowling a full length just a tad outside off-stump, the best bowlers are exposing Cook's back foot set-up. He needs to think inside a tunnel, to imagine himself playing the ball down that tunnel. He needs to think in straight lines - in short, he has to hit the ball back from whence it came with a quicker forward transfer of his weight. The cover drive should go for now, replaced by the discipline of straight drives and forward defensive shots that that roll back down the pitch, instead of towards cover.

Ian Bell is the surprise. The sense of permanency that we enjoyed from him last summer has gone, replaced by confident starts that precede sloppy mistakes. The ball whistles from the middle of his bat so, again, form is not the issue. But he keeps getting out. Belly, you just have to stay in! If an international batsman must do anything, he must sell his wicket dearly. The understanding of responsibility is something that comes with time and experience. He is England's No. 4, a pivotal figure in a proud position. After a 101 Test matches, Bell should have grasped the nettle.

Credit then to Root, who is doing exactly that. His innings have rythmn. His temperament is sound and his assessment of situations is first-class. He adapts to the various challenges put before him with remarkable efficiency, as he did here. The masterful way in which he first allowed Broad his head and then coaxed the very best from Anderson was something to behold.

In the London Evening Standard magazine of 10 days ago, there was a feature on Cook, Broad and Anderson titled "Rising from the Ashes". It was not written for the cricket fan but for the general consumer. It began thus: "When the idea of an interview with England's leading cricketers was first mooted, no-one could have foreseen the circumstances in which it would take place. This time last year England were the finest cricket team on the planet, preparing to follow an historic series win in India under the new leadership of dashing, record-breaking batsman Alastair Cook. The players walked on water. When we gathered in Leeds a fortnight ago, a very different mood prevailed. In their last eight Test matches, England have now lost six and drawn two."

Make that lost seven and drawn three after the defeat at Headingley against Sri Lanka and this stalemate at Trent Bridge. There is no hiding place. The world is watching, expecting, demanding. The players are privileged and well paid. Tickets to see them in action are expensive. Test cricket needs a strong England, just as it needs a strong India. Articles in magazines such as the ES are important because they project the game beyond its usual boundaries. Such articles will only appear if the team in winning, as the author explained in the paragraph just quoted. England may not have been the best team on the planet in the middle of last summer, neither did they walk on water, but they were motoring along pretty nicely.

Things change quickly in sport. Ask Brazil. Or ask Australia for that matter. If someone had told you that the Australian team who were beaten 3-0 in England would follow up that embarrassment by hammering England 5-0 just a few months later in Australia, you would have, at the very least, argued the point.

 
 
Cook played as if he had woken up one morning and thought, to hell with this, I might just as well enjoy myself
 

During this last five days there have been signs that a corner has been turned. England appeared to play with a different attitude. No longer was there a sense that the game owed them, rather that they would go out and earn their success. Nobody moaned about the dreadful pitch or bad umpiring decisions or the absent DRS or losing the toss or anything in fact, they just got on with it.

Cook played the match with a smile on his face, as if he had woken up one morning after the disastrous last couple of days at Headingley and thought, to hell with this, I might just as well enjoy myself as retreat into a hole of despair. From afar, it looked - for the first time in a long time - as if he was the leader, not a follower of the strong characters around him. From his relative lightness of being came greater tactical imagination. There were smart field placements and funky field placements. There was a consolidation of thinking as bowlers worked as one with their leader's ambition. He still doesn't see the value in having someone down at third man but that is a common theme among the modern captains. Generally, he had a good and happy match and was relaxed in his post-match interviews. Now for some runs.

Broad and Anderson may need some protection. They are bowling a ridiculous amount of overs given that five Tests are to be crammed into 42 days. Perhaps each could miss one Test, given that Chris Jordan is a promising replacement and Steven Finn is beginning to find his mojo for Middlesex.

The real issue is the spinner. Moeen Ali is a handy bowler, for a batsman. He would benefit from more support in the go-to situations that revolve around Broad and Anderson. He took two big wickets on the fourth evening but rather than continue with him, Cook threw the ball to the fast men. Having said that, Moeen is not the solution to the problem.

Simon Kerrigan has been added to the party for Lord's. Yes, the same Kerrigan who suffered humiliation at The Oval last August. Let us hope the selectors know their man. If a specialist spinner is to play at Lord's, one less vulnerable might have been the answer. Gareth Batty of Surrey is bowling well, says Alec Stewart. There you go, a stop gap answer. Batty has played for England before, knows the ropes and loves a scrap. Frankly, England would do worse than settle on him for the summer, thus ending the debate until a younger man clearly emerges with the talent for the job.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

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Posted by JaranNirsi on (July 16, 2014, 20:57 GMT)

Turned the corner? Against India in their worst conditions away from home? And they couldn't be put away in five days? And the batting line up failed, only to be bailed out by the bottom half. Just think about how this team will fare, if South Africa, or Australia, were their opponents instead of India. And then consider whether it has 'turned the corner.' As for India, they should expect a seaming pitch at Lords. With Anderson in the mix. How they fare will decide whether they have turned the corner in their tours overseas. At least their captain is no passenger.

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (July 15, 2014, 6:42 GMT)

@JG2704, spot on re Swann, the problem is that Moeen isn't a front line spinner, you only need to look at his FC bowling stats, he bowls an average of 8-9 overs per innings, compare that to a mainline spinner like Kerrigan who bowls an average of 20 overs per innings.

In regards to Kerrigan, I don't have a problem, England need a Front line spinner and really the field is a little light, apart from Kerrigan there is Riley, Rafiq, Rashid, Rayner and Borthwick who are at the youthful side of the equation, and a few old county pros like Batty at the other end.

If you go with a spin option who do you consign to the drinks carrier, or do you go with a 5-1-5 formation, which would please a lot of people even if it weakened the batting.

Posted by NalinPerera on (July 15, 2014, 6:15 GMT)

Dont understand why India playing 5 Test in this series .... Dont mind to watch Eng & AUs but not India..

Posted by   on (July 15, 2014, 2:57 GMT)

Surprised no one mentioned Gary Ballance. I thought his one over of leggies turned more than any spinner from either side in Nottingham. He sure deserves a longer spell?

Posted by Chris_P on (July 14, 2014, 21:03 GMT)

@JG2704. Agree with you re: Swann. He was or seemed to be England's "go to" man & invariably delivered on breakthroughs. There are signs but you need fresh, hungry bowlers, a fully fit Finn would be a great site for cricket lovers.

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (July 14, 2014, 16:02 GMT)

@jackthelad, I can see some alternatives, Buttler and Bairstow for Priors job, theres also Finn and Craig Overton (somerset) in the fast bowling. Riley, Kerrigan, Rafiq for spinners.

Batting wise : Lees, Vince, Taylor are in good positions if there are injuries.

Captaincy is the issue, no-one can point out a long term Captain, who could justify his place with either bat or ball, I would be tempted to give cook a break from ODI's and tell Essex to play him as a captain, with Foster to teach him about thinking on his feet, no support staff to second guess etc.

Posted by JG2704 on (July 14, 2014, 15:43 GMT)

Imagine what Nicholas would have said had England won?

I don't really see how there are any signs that England have turned the corner here.

There are certainly things to be optimistic about - guys like Ballance and Robson - and Root is starting to show consistency in England colours but this is against 2 of the attacks you would probably choose to face in English conditions and we are still struggling to put sides away when we get halfway through the oppositions batting line up. I think our bowling line up is now over reliant on our 2 experienced guys and now we have a selection dilemma in that we either have to drop a seamer (making our bowling line up less effective) or a batsman to bring in a spinner (Kerrigan) and I still don't trust Cook will use him enough - too quick to discard him if things don't go well. I will continue to say that Swann is a far bigger loss than KP or Trott.

Posted by jackthelad on (July 14, 2014, 12:37 GMT)

This seems a rather over-optimistic assessment by Nicholas; I'd take it a bit more seriously if Cook and Bell had made some decent scores lately, if there was a match-winning spinner in the side, and if England had some bowlers to turn to in addition to Anderson and (on his day) Broad. Root's a find, but not quite the finished article yet, and the rest remain to be tried in the long-term (apart from Prior, who must surely have reached end of term?). I agree there are problems at the moment in pointing to replacements for any of them who would be better (though I'd love to see Finn get back to full whack - which he might if they stop messing about with his action and just encourage him to bowl his fastest) but I can't regard this current side as the resurrection of England cricket. I also agree with Yorkshire Pudding that the Central Contract system seems to work more as a drag on development than a tool for continued excellence. Ah, me!

Posted by   on (July 14, 2014, 11:51 GMT)

Mark, are you really serious or having a laugh when you say that Eng have turned a corner. Yes they have got into winning positions but lacked a matchwinner like KP or Swann to drive home the advantage. The captaincy is very poor and I promise you that Cook will be gone by the end of the serious, run out by Shane Warne from the commentary box. I recall you talking about Eng leaving behind a legacy a couple of years go and guess what they have been whitewashed by Pakistan and Australia since and hammered 2-0 in their own backyard by SA. Please start being a bit realistic, this Eng batting line up is full of boring nudgers and I think the lack of flair is also demotivating Bell who formed a very attractive partnership with KP. Broad and Anderson look worn out and the Trent Bridge pitch would not have made them any fresher or more motivated. A world class spinner is no where in sight and Prior as keeper is hopeless. I promise you that this Eng team will get much worst before it improves

Posted by md111 on (July 14, 2014, 11:42 GMT)

Not sure Gareth Batty would be happy with the following but if he were recalled it would be like the early 90s when John Emberury was bought back in. Having said that if Kerrigan isn't over last years mauling it maybe that we need a wise head like Batty.

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Mark Nicholas A prolific and stylish middle-order batsman for Hampshire, Mark Nicholas was unlucky never to have played for England, but after captaining his county to four major trophies he made his reputation as a presenter, commentator and columnist. Named the UK Sports Presenter of the Year in 2001 and 2005 by the Royal Television Society, he has commentated all over the world, from the World Cup in the West Indies to the Indian Premier League. He now hosts the cricket coverage for Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in England.

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