India did almost everything that was expected of them at Trent Bridge yesterday. They conducted themselves, mostly, in the manner to be expected of a cricket team still somewhat tenuously ranked as the world No 1.
Their main strike bowlers, Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar, were much more than the remnants of the badly beaten army driven out of Lord's last Monday – and the man who came to support them in the absence of the wounded star Zaheer Khan for most of the day made a nonsense of his reputation as one of the most eccentric characters in the game.
Sree Sreesanth was supposed to lurch between his version of madcap humour and moments of genuine menace but the comic figure was largely absent and in his place was someone who demanded to be taken seriously. Long before the end of a day that turned into a dogfight in which the bowlers repeatedly announced their advantage of bounce and appreciable swing, Sreesanth had the wickets of Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior to justify all of his claims.
On current form, all three of his victims represent scalps of the highest value – knock them over as brilliantly as Sreesanth did and you have not only given your team an edge, you have practically carried it to the mountain top on your back.
So why aren't India, who bowled England out for 221 in the evening sunshine, in the dominant position that seemed so remote when they trailed down St John's Wood Road a few days ago?
It is because they learnt something utterly pivotal to their hopes of hanging on to their status as Test cricket's best team.
This was that it may not be quite enough for them to win back their old appetite for the battle – and at least some of the confidence in supreme talent that first enabled them to conquer the world. They might just have to face up to the fact that here, at Edgbaston and then in the fourth Test at The Oval, they have opponents who have developed a resilience that may indeed be nearing world champion levels.
At Lord's, India had reason to believe that despite the shattering injury to Zaheer and plainly inadequate preparations in local conditions, they had bowled themselves back into the first Test after a superb spell from Sharma which threatened to dismiss England for less than a hundred in their second innings. Instead, Matt Prior and Stuart Broad simply went back to work to rebuild, piece by piece, the English advantage.
Something of the same happened here last night. But then these days, with England, it generally does.
Again Broad was involved, this time in the company of his Nottinghamshire team-mate Graeme Swann, and though the run hoarding was not so great as at headquarters, in a game that is unlikely to be high-scoring, the margins last night were that much finer.
In such a situation, Broad's top score of 64 served well enough as one impressive working guide to the reason why it is England, rather than the fallen Aussies or the formidable South Africans, who are driving India so hard for that No 1 position.
If you pull out the Broad case study, you see why it is that today's England team not only bat but fight so deep. Broad, after all, is a man who went into Lord's with a huge question mark over his head. Time, many said, was running out on the ex-golden youth of English cricket. The harder he bowled, the more distant seemed the possibility of claiming Test wickets on the necessary regular basis. He pitched the ball short, he poured out his frustration on opponents, umpires, even at times team-mates.
So when the England selectors announced their team for the first Test, Broad, here was the implication, muted but clear enough anyway, was fighting for his career as an international cricketer.
He won his battle, all right, first with the ball and then, and after a first-innings failure, with the bat. He was undefeated on 74. He hit the ball with a high, ringing relish.
It meant that few hometown boys ever enjoyed the acclaim that came to Stuart Broad beside the River Trent here yesterday. When he came in at 117 for 7, the English batting was a wasteland. Ian Bell was still there, the last front-line batsman to survive, but he had rarely been living so dangerously. So what was Broad to do, now and when he was joined by Swann? He had to do what seems to come with increasing naturalness, even relish. He took command. He made himself the more formidable figure in the neighbourhood.
This was the point where Kumar, who can expect little financial reward from this match after his frenzied criticism of umpire Marais Erasmus's decision not to award him an lbw decision against Pietersen, Sharma and Sreesanth discovered the most persuasive element in all of England's ambitions under coach Andy Flower and captain Andrew Strauss.
It is the willingness of someone like Broad to display the required levels of moral courage. He had slid to the point of Test oblivion, but in the end he simply refused to go. Last night, after keeping England in the game with his clean and optimistic hitting, he bowled with similarly magnificent fury.
He couldn't match Jimmy Anderson's success with his, and the innings', first delivery, which had Indian opener Abhinav Mukund eagerly picked up by Pietersen at gully, but there were moments when he seemed to have made a major breakthrough against one of the two desperately resisting veterans, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
One nick did not carry to the cordon behind the wicket. Several times Broad brushed hard against the composure of the great men. He bowled seven overs, conceded just five runs and at no point did he look other than a young cricketer convinced that he had the world more or less entirely by the throat.
It is a mood which India need to capture with some speed if they are to hold on to their mythic crown.
They played well yesterday, vastly better than they did at Lord's, but when Broad announced the counter-attack after tea they became confused. Their patient length, their impressive craft, dissolved into sweaty desperation.
They had broken England's innings into what seemed like the smallest pieces, but there was Broad celebrating his youth, his resurrection as a Test cricketer and the suspicion that he and his team-mates might well be in the foothills of their greatest triumph.
Of course, he has known a few – the most notable of them coming at The Oval when the Ashes were last claimed on home soil. Broad had had his problems in that series, too. He was extremely flammable and when success did not come, when a terrible reverse came at Headingley, there were moments when some again questioned his style and his nerve.
Yet, of course, he bowled beautifully at The Oval. He showed more than sufficient nerve. You were reminded of that here last night, as you had been at Lord's last weekend. The Indians, no doubt, looked more like their old selves. The trouble is, so do England.Reuse content