Four years ago, England's chances of beating India did not amount to a hill of beans. They return to the scene of the crime today for the second Test as a mature team at ease with themselves and pretty good at being noble.
There are plenty of reasons to think that the pulsating victory achieved at Lord's can be repeated, at which point the prospect of being the No 1-ranked team in the world would be closer to reality than ever before. All – still a big all – England would need to do then is avoid defeat in both of the final two matches to usurp the present incumbents.
Both sides are likely to be below full strength. Chris Tremlett will almost certainly miss the match with a hamstring niggle that has not yet responded to treatment. His chances of appearing receded last night when Steve Finn was called up to the squad, which he was to join after Middlesex's Clydesdale Bank 40 game against Derbyshire at Lord's. With two matches to come, England would be reluctant – indeed they would be foolhardy – to risk a player in a match lasting five days as part of a four-man attack. Tim Bresnan will come into the side.
India will definitely be without their premier paceman, Zaheer Khan, who also has a hamstring injury. So integral is he to their bowling strategy – and what swing he might have garnered at Trent Bridge where he achieved the second-best match bowling figures of his career – that his loss will be difficult to overcome. Sree Sreesanth is the likely replacement, although Munaf Patel may be a better bet in the conditions.
The other doubt for India concerns their opening batsman, Gautam Gambhir, who was still feeling the effects of the bruised elbow he suffered when he was hit at short leg during the Lord's Test. It would mean the tourists being without both their first-choice opening pair, Virender Sehwag being again absent because his recovery from shoulder surgery is continuing. Rahul Dravid would open the innings with the inexperienced Abhinav Mukund.
India are perfectly capable of coming back if they can assemble a large first-innings total. They are not No 1 in the world for nothing and three times in recent series they have won the second Test after losing the first.
When the teams arrived at Trent Bridge in 2007, England had come close to winning the first Test at Lord's, needing only one more wicket when rain intervened on the final afternoon. As is the case now, they must have felt they had India by the throat, but the match was marred by ill-will and England lost.
There will be no repeat of the misdemeanours which reached a farcical level when jelly beans were scattered around the crease during Zaheer's innings. He responded to what England thought was a terrific wheeze by adding another five wickets to his four in the first innings which propelled India to victory and ultimately secured them the series by 1-0.
The difference this time is that England are deservedly ahead but as their captain Andrew Strauss averred yesterday, that is not all. Strauss said: "I think the guys are more mature now – they understand their responsibility to the team and that silly little things aren't helping the team win.
"The way we look at any Test, everything we do has to be to help the team win. I think we have learnt lessons from that. They were there, the batsman brushed them away and on you went. It was a silly little thing and it won't be repeated."
The jelly beans, which presumably England had in their possession either to help them shine the ball with their sugar coating or to keep up energy levels rather than annoy Zaheer, were only the half of it. Sreesanth was involved in three unsavoury incidents in which he bowled a beamer at Kevin Pietersen, a no-ball bouncer at Paul Collingwood which he delivered from 18 yards, and shoulder-charged England's captain, Michael Vaughan.
This series has undoubtedly captured the public imagination as indicated by the queues snaking round St John's Wood on the last day of the Lord's Test. The players feel they are involved in something special.
"It was fantastic to see," said Strauss. "It's fantastic that people are talking about cricket. For us as international cricketers, it gives you that buzz and it makes you feel like what you're doing is important and somehow helping the game of cricket to flourish in the future. It feels like the main event of the summer and our responsibility as players is to make sure it lives up to that hype."
India know they are up against it. Not that captain MS Dhoni betrayed any concern. "Getting used to conditions takes a bit of time," he said. Nor was he worried about fielding a depleted team. "It's something we have constantly faced," he said. "I don't know when we [last] played at full strength in the longer format." But against a side as confident as England, it might just be the difference that matters.Reuse content