England vs India fifth Test: Quiet optimism among the rebuilding work

The familiar England batting collapse threatened to surface once again had Buttler and Root not steadied the ship

The Oval

For all that England’s performances since the debacle at Lord’s have suggested their rebuilding process is well and truly under way, there is still the occasional lurching panic that this recovery is being constructed with nothing more stable than Jenga bricks.

If one thing characterised the diabolical run of losses that this side went through over the past year, it was batting collapses, the eternal monster under the bed of England’s batsmen that raised its head in each of their nine successive winless Tests.

It threatened to surface once again at The Oval on Saturday, as the home side slipped from 191 for one to 229 for five in the space of  just 11 overs, only staved off by an important sixth wicket partnership from England’s twin 23-year-olds, Joe Root and Jos Buttler.

Perhaps in a way it was exactly what this side needed, a gentle reminder that their miraculous turnaround in form has come as much from Indian ineptitude as English excellence.

 

While Alastair Cook made his third half-century in as many matches, he seemed to have drawn inspiration from his opposite number, MS Dhoni, in putting together an innings that managed to be high-scoring yet often unconvincing.

Despite the tourists’ unwitting determination to usher him towards a century, his dismissal had more than a whiff of inevitability about it, perhaps the only shock being that after spilling two regulation chances, India finally held on to a slip catch.

Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance has been the revelation of the series for the home side, only three men have made more runs in their first seven Tests for England, but his dismissal was tamer than the over-fed pigeons that have menaced batsmen and fielders alike throughout this Test.

Match report: England v India day two

When Ian Bell and Moeen Ali also departed, having made little contribution to the cause, it seemed as if England’s wobbly middle might send their patiently-built tower crashing to the ground.

However, then came the reminder that there is indeed much to be positive about in this young England side.

For the second game in a row, Root and Buttler combined well to turn their side’s fortunes around, their partnership of 80 coming just in time to prevent England reverting to the blueprint of their inglorious past year.

Following his shuffle up, down and then out of the batting line-up throughout England’s winter of shame, Root (below) is finally getting the chance to show just why he was marked out as a special talent at such a young age, and his superb unbeaten 92 off 129 balls yesterday has helped to put his side into a surely unassailable position.

While Buttler’s pedigree as a short-form smasher has never been in doubt, his second ship-steadying innings in succession is also cause for quiet optimism.

This was not by any standards a vintage day of Test cricket, but it did at least show that, while England’s new foundations are still far from rock solid, this side is at least building in the right direction.

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