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

Young England growing up fast

The turnaround in England's fortunes since defeat at Lord's has been remarkable and testament to the faith Alastair Cook has shown in several new players
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Dravid: Moeen's pace troubled batsmen

India's abject cricket in every department of the game should not compromise the part played in England's revival by a collection of fresh faces. Enthusiasm is a great gift. From it comes energy, application and courage. After Lord's, where England themselves surrendered pathetically, the dressing-rooms would have reflected the emotional whirl of professional sport. One team rampant, the other in ruins. Ecstasy, agony; laugh, cry; smile, scowl; speak to friends, turn off phone; meet for a drink, room service. In short, these moments bring on the extremes of exhilaration and despair. So unpredictable is sport that the emotions bounce around almost uncontrollably. The ability to handle them and respond accordingly is crucial to the development of a team.

Old hands find it hardest. This is why defeat tears a team apart. England's experienced XI was too much for Australia last summer in England. When the same group of successful players started losing during the winter in Australia, they had nothing with which to fight back - no energy, no mind or stomach for it. They were battle weary, punch drunk, shot away. Call it what you like but they were gone.

In contrast, the players that lost to India at Lord's were mainly starting out on their journey. Each had a gift but learning how to use it for the greater good of the England team was taking time. The pack was chasing the captain but he resolved to see it through. The fruits of his determination and belief are clear for all to see.

But in what exactly did Alastair Cook have such faith? Let's have a think. Himself certainly and, for sure, a new-ball pairing that has taken more than 600 wickets for England. He needed more from Ian Bell and he naturally backed Matt Prior, as much as anything because Prior had always backed him. Prior chose an honourable course, Bell got his head down. Above all though, Cook judged that the young players had a few things going for them and most important of those was enthusiasm. He looked around that room at Lord's and amidst the wreckage he could see a future. A future worth fighting for.

Top of his chart must have been Gary Ballance, a man of quiet talent and substantial achievement. Until Jonathan Trott's vigil, the No. 3 slot had various applicants. After Trott went the way of the broken-hearted in Brisbane, the hungry Australians devoured Joe Root's uncertain crack at it. It is well documented that when Ballance was asked if fancied the job, he said "when do I start?" A captain cannot want more for than that. Ballance brings both composure and conviction to England's batting. Each morning, about half an hour before play starts, he goes to the middle, stands at the crease and visualises - runs, runs and more runs presumably.

Neck and neck with Ballance for the captain's affections must be his Yorkshire team-mate, Joe Root. Fed upon by the Australians, Root has come back stronger, smarter, tighter. We won't see him caught at third man playing the paddle scoop again, even if he has made 180. We will see him bat on, and on. Root is brave and utterly committed to the cause of his country. No 5 works well for him now. He plays the opponent and the situation with clarity and works partnerships with skill. He is a bit cocky, which is good, especially as he is now harnessing the best of his talents and applying them with thought and consistency.

Three weeks is indeed a long time in sport. Alastair Cook appeared at his wit's end when the India players began their Lord's party but he saw himself at the beginning of a journey he truly believed he could conquer

Next up is Moeen Ali. Fancy the fans singing "Graeme who?" on Friday evening when Moeen came out to be interviewed by Ian Ward from Sky. Ten wickets in the last two innings in which he has bowled tells us plenty about India's woeful batting but it also shows that Moeen is a proper threat. Of course, he is no Graeme Swann. Not yet anyway. But Moeen does spin the ball, delivering the thing with enough revs to dip the occasional one at the last second. He bowls pretty accurately and is not fazed by attacking batsmen. He improves almost daily and would benefit from an hour or two with Shane Warne whose genius was to bowl the ball "up", thus getting it to travel with hidden deception and surprising bounce.

His batting has stalled. Two things have led to this. One is the short ball, which is confusing him. Until he works out a clear defensive method, he should take it on, rather than try to fend it off. The angle of the ball that hurts him most, the one from around the wicket, is hard to avoid because it follows him. Attack it Moeen, until the off season allows you time to think it through. Otherwise he has played some measured innings and displayed a surprising power of shot. His memorable, heroic hundred all but saved the Headingley match against Sri Lanka. Yes, there is something of the hero in him. A man to inspire a new following for English cricket.

Jos Buttler's was not at Lord's, lucky chap. Not for the Test match at least, but he was there for the ODI against Sri Lanka, when he flayed them. Buttler is outrageously gifted with the bat and modest too. He doesn't do the hype, just the hitting. We thought his game was one dimensional but both here he proved he had gears. He batted with great intelligence, allowing Root to dominate the partnership that ripped the game from India's grasp.

His wicket-keeping is a work in progress. In Southampton he impressed. In Manchester he looked oddly insecure. Adam Gilchrist was average behind the timbers in his early days. Enough said. Buttler will spend hours studying the art and searching for improvement. He loves the work ethic. Best of all, like Gilchrist, he is box office and English cricket sparkles a little more with him on the field. The crowd see this and with his arrival comes a great fizz of anticipation.

Engand stuck with Chris Jordan for this match when, after an iffy game at the Ageas Bowl, other selectors might have packed him off to the shires. Ridiculous as it sounds, Jordan's catching sets a standard. His footwork and hands are close to perfect. By making a difficult skill appear easy, he inspires others. England caught brilliantly in the match, a sure sign of a winning team. The ability to catch tells us that Jordan is a proper cricketer. He leaves no stone unturned in his preparation and improvement seems an inevitable result of this attention to detail. With the ball, he has pace. With the bat, he has strength. Give this man time and he will reward with you with moments of magic.

Sam Robson and Chris Woakes are less convincing but no less worthy as men. Sometimes, you have to pick the character and stick with it for a while to find out if the talent can match the attitude and mind. Robson tries almost too hard, which leads to a rigidity in his play and inflexibility to his options. He is popular because he relishes the contest and enhances the team ethic but soon enough he will be judged on his output not simply the strength of that character. The Oval is a big game for him. He must find a way to flow.

Woakes is much admired by the bowling coach, David Saker. But you sense he is on the time he has borrowed from Ben Stokes. Stokes has flair. Woakes has honesty. Flair wins by a mile if it is fit and in the present. Meanwhile, Woakes needs to make the batsman play at more balls, ensuring that he jars their bottom hand when he does so.

With these two are Liam Plunkett, whose heart is plenty big enough for the job of fast bowling and Steven Finn, who is creeping back into our consciousness.

After the match, Cook could barely contain his excitement. Three weeks is indeed a long time in sport, he agreed. We all thought he was at his wit's end when the India players began their Lord's party but he saw himself at the beginning of a journey he truly believed he could conquer. Feeble as India have been in these two matches, you can only thrash the opponent put before you and, by heaven, England have done that.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • MichaelBeen on August 11, 2014, 16:54 GMT

    @saravananunga, I don't know what young Australian team you've been watching, but it was a bunch of oldies that won in South Africa. Rogers (36), Haddin (36), Harris (34), Clarke (33), Watson (33), Johnson (32), Marsh (31). They must be the oldest team in cricket right now.

  • saravananunga on August 11, 2014, 12:35 GMT

    Yes Young england is growing up fast but other teams are growing faster than england just open your eyes and look around ,young Srilankan team won in england,young southafrican team won in srilanka,young australian team won in southafrica,even young indian team won one test match in england but england have just won now after one year that too in home still these kids have to travel the globe to grow,if they win one test match atleast outside england we will accept they have grown up or else??

  • espncricinfomobile on August 11, 2014, 10:41 GMT

    Yorkshire-pud 3 wickets @ 60 in paper dies not represent a great return. But what does Boycs say, "lies, damn lies and then statistics" Every time he got a bowl against Sri Lanka he was bowling at set batmen (in May)as an after thought. Cook didn't back him. Then when he did break a partnership he was whipped out for a seamer. I'm not saying he's going to make Clarke, Amla, A B his bunny, no one in world cricket ever will but this guy can bowl an attacking line at a good pace, he gets drift and turn. What more do you want? What's your view on my case for Samit??

  • YorkshirePudding on August 11, 2014, 9:34 GMT

    @Valavan, I think Comptons boat has sailed, in terms of other operners, Lyth has out performed hales in this years CC, and is a pretty decent fielder.

    It depends on how you select players.

  • Valavan on August 11, 2014, 7:09 GMT

    @BharatNatteri, were you one of those colleagues of ArunBose who expected 5 - 0 since england lost to SL. England have been unpredictable at times, they lost to windies 1 - 0 in 2009, but they managed to destroy them in 2004, 3 - 0. Even if any blind fan says about England is a great team, we know ourselves how we can perform. Losing to SL is a wake up call, England took over india 2 -1 in India and that woke up india and bounced back 4- 0 vs Australia. England never had shivering bowlers, it was just they get beaten in line, in first 2 tests, england bowlers targeted either off stump or outside off. Now they are trying to swing it into off and middle where indians are forced to play at it, Jordan is just 3 tests old, anyway we shall see if he progresses or not, but finn, plunkett and stokes on the queue. I feel england should play either compton or hales as opener instead of sticking to Robson. Appreciate good cricket instead eating sour grapes. cricinfo please publish

  • xtrafalgarx on August 11, 2014, 4:02 GMT

    @Paul-Rone-Clarke: Tredwell, who has a good record in ODI's had a good series in India, but struggled against the Aussies home and away. He reckons it's harder to bowl spin to Australian batsmen IN AUSTRALIA than Indian batsmen in India.

    Also, it's no longer a given that Indian batsmen are good players of spin. Swann ad Monty not only schooled their batsmen, but their bowlers as well on how to bowl spin in India. They don't have top class spinners any more do India, guys like Kumble, and Harbajhan are gone. Jadeja is average at best. This has directly affected their batting against spin as well, Lyon didn't end up doing to badly In India in the end - he was getting them pretty cheaply in the last test i couldn't believe it.

  • YorkshirePudding on August 10, 2014, 21:15 GMT

    @Nathan Franklin, to be honest India are no longer the best players of spin, thats was shown in 2012 when Monty and Swann ran through them, and Moeen is doing the same.

    In regards to SL have you looked at Moeens Averages in that series, 3 wickets @60.

    @Halequin., As I said we need to temper things with a bit of reality, at the momen everything looks hunky dory and the media are fawning over the likes of Moeen and Buttler, but just wait until they have a bad couple of games, Buttler with low scores and 20+ byes conceded, Moeen not being effective, you'll see the media change its tune.

    Look at how the media has reacted to Stokes, scored a ton and took good wickets in Aus, came back to the UK and flopped a bit, now they dont want anything to do with him.

  • espncricinfomobile on August 10, 2014, 18:26 GMT

    @yorkshire-pudding. Ali hasn't exactly been tested against the worlds best????? Was that Sangakara's identical twin he got out then was it? Add Kholi, Pujara, Dhoni to the list. He is getting top order batsmen out, what more could be asked of him? Samit Patel for Robson, bat at 5 everyone moves up a slot. Another angle with his left arm slow, another option. Would say Mo is better bowler but for me he gets in on merit as a bat.

  • heathrf1974 on August 10, 2014, 15:01 GMT

    Wait till a team plays away before giving judgement. But the bowling of Moeen Ali and batting of Ballance seems promising

  • dummy4fb on August 10, 2014, 14:29 GMT

    "Stokes has flair. Woakes has honesty. Flair wins by a mile if it is fit and in the present."

    No it doesn't. Would you have said the same about the Waugh brothers? The greatest issue for Woakes is sticking to doing what he does best at county level. The short ball attack plan he used on the final days at times was patently not how he usually bowls and he looked uneasy with it. David Saker's record with England's bowlers is not great. Many have come and fallen by the wayside with Finn's collapse being the obvious pointer. Indeed, it's feasible to say that the one English bowler who has shown improvement over the last year is Moeen Ali. Coincidentally he is a spinner and you can imagine doesn't receive quite so much input from the seam-friendly Saker.

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