Lesson of 2007 is that Strauss's men must finish the job

 

Lord's

Common sense as well as recent history suggests that England, having worked themselves into a winning position, would be well advised to complete the deal here today if they want to be the world's No 1 Test team by late August.

There is almost always room for improvement and, in the case of the home side, they can catch better and avoid a repeat of yesterday's top- order batting collapse when chapter two of this potentially spellbinding four-match tale starts to take shape in Nottingham at the end of the week.

While England were a few hard yards away from perfection over the first four days at Lord's, India have so far been a country mile short of what they are capable of producing at Trent Bridge, Edgbaston and The Oval. An early injury to senior fast bowler Zaheer Khan severely handicapped the visitors, of course, but too many of them looked as though this Test was being used as a warm-up match.

A similar thought, one seems to remember, occurred four years ago when India last played in these parts. Bad light and rain came to their rescue in the first Test of that series, also at Lord's, when they were just one wicket away from defeat on the final afternoon with a possible 43 overs left.

More than half the members of this England team – Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Matt Prior, Jimmy Anderson and Chris Tremlett, to name names – will, no doubt, recall the frustration they felt in 2007 (and, for sure, remember that the opposition's last batsman, Sree Sreesanth, somehow survived a leg-before appeal as the weather closed in).

How England were to rue those events. They went on to lose the Trent Bridge Test (which became more famous for the jelly beans that the hosts scattered, and which so fired up Zaheer that he bowled out of his skin, than the result). And then with a draw at The Oval, it was India's series.

Stray jelly beans apart, something similar is perfectly possible this summer – especially if India manage to leave London undefeated. True, the problems are piling up for them: Zaheer's participation at Trent Bridge is less than certain, the dashing Virender Sehwag is not expected to be available until Edgbaston following shoulder surgery, Gautam Gambhir has joined the crocked list and captain MS Dhoni could be suspended at any time because of his team's regularly slow over-rate.

But, even so, England will expect their opponents to be faster out of the blocks, and to run a consistently more competitive race, once the action resumes in Nottingham on Friday.

There was a time yesterday, before lunch, when it looked as though India had suddenly realised this series was under way and they ought to begin playing like the world's No 1 Test team. Fast bowler Ishant Sharma and spinner Harbhajan Singh awoke from their earlier slumbers and five England wickets fell in the space of 17 overs.

England have had these opponents in trouble on more than one occasion in the recent past without being able to finish them off. Indeed, during the last series between the two countries – nearly three years ago – they must have reckoned that a draw was the worst possible outcome after setting a victory target of nearly 400 in Chennai.

Instead, India romped to success with six wickets to spare, having been put on their merry way by a sparkling innings of 83 from Sehwag and then taken over the finishing line by a Sachin Tendulkar century.

For England, there is no time like the present to put their noses in front.

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