There is the sense that the slate is clean at last. England, under their new management, have won a Test match after almost a year and the disciplinary issues which have dogged them for the last month were finally buried here.
The team can take the field with a spring in their step for the penultimate match in an absorbing series against India. The travails of the early season, when they lost to Sri Lanka in all three formats with their senior players still reeling from their mauling in Australia during the winter, their junior ranks performing adequately but wondering what was happening, have been vanquished.
One win does not perhaps make everything hunky-dory again, but it is like the relationship of money to happiness: it certainly helps. England were wondering where their next victory was coming from and the relief from Peter Moores, the coach, and Paul Downton, the managing director, was palpable.
The manner of their 266-run triumph at Southampton to level matters at 1-1 was as important as the victory itself. They won all 13 sessions, their captain, Alastair Cook, made runs again, they had the rub of the green and made the most of it.
India can hardly believe what has occurred. In a trice the summer seems to have been turned on its head. Their impressive win at Lord’s when they outplayed their hosts at their own game has been overtaken by subsequent events. At Southampton, the tourists’ threat was nullified partly because it somehow never existed.
After the ruling of the International Cricket Council and some timely comments about language, it seems certain that both sides will be on their best behaviour. That applies particularly to Jimmy Anderson, from whom much will be expected.
His exemplary performance in the third Test was slightly overshadowed by the disciplinary charge still hanging over him. That was dealt with when the ICC declined to appeal over the not guilty verdict of the judicial commissioner, who did not have enough substantive evidence to convict Anderson of any breach of the ICC code of conduct for his clash with Ravindra Jadeja in the opening Test at Trent Bridge a month ago.
Anderson seems to have the need to behave aggressively, nay abhorrently to opponents to achieve peak performance. But in doing so he and England are at risk of becoming deeply unpopular. There is a balance to be struck and Anderson’s legacy will be the richer if he can find it.
His bowling was beautiful once more last week and if there is a hint of swing at his home ground, India will be in big trouble. Cook said that Anderson was the best England bowler he had seen by a considerable margin. It is theoretically possible at least that he could overtake Sir Ian Botham’s record Test wicket haul for England. Botham has 383 wickets, Anderson is on 371.
It is probable that Anderson will bowl from the Brian Statham End. Statham, who took 252 Test wickets and briefly held the world record, was Lancashire’s first great fast bowler. Anderson might care to dwell briefly on the way that Statham played the game.
Reserved to the point of taciturnity off the field, he said no more on it, simply letting his metronomically accurate bowling do all the talking. Everything else was a waste of energy. Statham simply wanted to do his day’s work, then have a few pints and a few fags. His mantra was simple: “If they miss, I hit.”
Both sides have contemplated changes. England seem as if they will err on the side of retaining a winning team. Chris Jordan’s place was under threat from Steve Finn but they look prepared to offer him another opportunity, perhaps persuaded by Jordan’s 5 for 29 in a one-day international at Old Trafford in May. But he will have to improve on his form in Southampton.
India may bring in three different players and field five specialist bowlers in an attempt to find the key to unlocking 20 England wickets. Ravichandran Ashwin will come in as the second spinner, Varun Aaron, the fastest bowler in their squad, will probably play his second Test in place of Pankaj Singh, who made his debut at Southampton, and the veteran opener Gautam Gambhir will return after almost two years out of the side for Shikhar Dhawan at the top of the order. It is a gamble but so salutary was what happened last week that India see it as utterly necessary.
It is expected that the Old Trafford pitch will be quicker than anything so far seen in Tests this summer. This does not mean it will be lightning fast but increased pace and bounce will be in England’s favour.
England have been desperately trying to keep their feet on the ground, keen to assure everybody that there is work still to do. But Cook’s return to form alone has relaxed all connected with the dressing room.
The captain himself conceded that it was easier to give team talks now he has made runs again. He said: “That’s always a hard thing for any captain when he’s out of form. You’re telling the guys what to do and you’re not backing up your own words. Two innings don’t change it too much but you’re right, it does make it easier.”
Apart from anything else, the team’s young players, who must have heard so much and watched from afar Cook’s appetite for runs, can now begin to see what all the fuss was about. England are suddenly in that place where they know how to win. They will be eager to stay there.
Fourth Test details
England A N Cook (capt), S D Robson, G S Ballance, I R Bell, J E Root, M M Ali, J C Buttler (w/k), C R Woakes, C J Jordan, S C J Broad, J M Anderson.
India M S Dhoni (capt; w/k), M Vijay, G Gambhir, C A Pujara, V Kohli, A M Rahane, R Ashwin, R A Jadeja, B Kumar, M Shami, V R Aaron.
Umpires R Tucker (Aus) & M Erasmus (SA)
Old Trafford pitch report It changed colour before the eyes as it was mowed yesterday. Everyone expects it to offer some pace and carry and it may turn as the match goes on.
Television Sky Sports 2, 10am-7pm. Highlights: Channel 5, 7-8pm.
Weather Warm with some cloud, becoming sunnier in the afternoon. Maximum temperature: 20C.
Odds to win Test Eng 9-5 India 5-1; Draw 11-10
Series details Level at 1-1.
First Test (Trent Bridge) Match drawn
Second Test (Lord’s) India won by 95 runs
Third Test (Ageas Bowl) England won by 266 runs
Fifth Test (The Kia Oval) 15-19 August
Flower guides England Lions to victory over Sri Lanka A
Former England team director Andy Flower has returned to the England coaching front-line, albeit in charge of the second-string Lions team.
Flower, who stood down from the top job after the Ashes whitewash in the winter, stayed in the set-up as technical director of elite coaching and today he guided the Lions to an impressive victory over Sri Lanka A at Taunton.
The hosts won by 51 runs after amassing 339 for 5 off 50 overs, Alex Hales opening with 101 while Ravi Bopara contributed 74, Jason Roy 51 and Jonny Bairstow 50 not out.
Sri Lanka A were bowled out for 288 with Middlesex spinner Ravi Patel picking up 3 for 71.