Young England growing up fast
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.
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