England on top as rain ruins first day

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The Independent Online

England finished a drastically truncated first day of the fourth npower Test at The Oval with a useful initial advantage over India.

Click here for the latest scorecard from the Oval

There was the hint of a gamble in Andrew Strauss' decision to bat first, under heavy cloud cover. He could therefore be satisfied with an outcome of 75 for none in the 26 overs which proved possible before forecast rain moved in after lunch.



Strauss looked down rather than up, at a pitch likely to favour bowling last over batting, and took it upon himself and Alastair Cook to vindicate his judgment.



The openers duly engineered a highly encouraging start for the new International Cricket Council Test table-toppers, as they eye a 4-0 whitewash of India this summer.



There were few thrills, though, as Strauss and Cook's efficiency dealt with with the new-ball questions posed by RP Singh and Ishant Sharma.



Singh, replacing the injured Praveen Kumar and back for his first Test in more than three years, struggled to find his range - and much worthwhile pace - in a tortured eight-minute first over to Strauss, interrupted several times by the inability of corporate guests to settle in boxes behind the bowler's arm.



Controlled edges to third man off each bowler brought both batsmen an opening boundary. But it was not until the final ball of the 10th over, following the introduction of Shantha Sreesanth at the pavilion end, that Strauss contributed the first four off the middle of the bat - neatly timed off his legs.



The most notable moment of a grim and eventually rainy day came with Strauss on 24 when he made a hash of an attempted pull shot and was done for pace and bounce by Sharma, who hit him on the helmet.



The England captain lost part of his protective equipment but not his cool - and after calling for a replacement helmet, suffered no more alarms in conditions which looked made for seam and swing but did not offer nearly as much help as India must have hoped.



Cook, India's nemesis in his career-best 294 in the last Test at Edgbaston last week, still appeared hungry for plenty more - and apart from one swish at a wide half-volley from Sreesanth, which just missed the edge, he did not make a false move.



He also produced the most memorable shot of the morning, a cover drive on the up in Sharma's second spell.



As well as being pleasing on the eye, it was a stroke which suggested Cook and Strauss' success in reaching lunch unscathed might prove highly significant on an apparently benign surface.



After two subsequent sessions of rain-induced inactivity, England could be further heartened by the prospect of much improved batting weather tomorrow.



But that optimism will be offset by a longer-term forecast suggesting more time lost to weather on the final two days of this match, and therefore compromised opportunity for the hosts to end this series with a fourth successive victory.







Click here for the latest scorecard from the Oval

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