Better batting key for Duncan Fletcher's men

ENGLAND took a significant step towards the summit of the world Test rankings by securing a comprehensive victory in the first Test at Lord's on Monday.

The series was always going to be their stiffest examination to date, and to achieve the No.1 ranking they will have to continue this good form into the second Test which starts today at Trent Bridge.

England's win at Lord's was based on some exceptional batting by Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior and some high quality bowling by Stuart Broad and James Anderson.

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Although they were undoubtedly hindered by the hamstring strain to Zaheer Khan and various injuries and illnesses affecting some of their batsman, the nature of the defeat will worry Duncan Fletcher, the newly-appointed India coach.

The choice of former England coach Fletcher adds another element of intrigue to the clashes. Fletcher was renowned for his meticulous preparation while with England, so it is inconceivable that he has not studied his former charges closely and plotted ways of unsettling them.

Much of the evidence from the first Test would suggest he may have to return to his drawing board. The main areas of concern will be his side's lack of penetration and threat with the ball and the inability of his top order batsman, bar Rahul Dravid, to occupy the crease for session after session. Both aspects are fundamental to successful Test cricket.

India's strength is built upon the normal brilliance of their batting line-up and this series will be the last one in England for the greats of Dravid, Sehwag, Laxman and Tendulkar. As the world's greatest living player, Sachin Tendulkar has carried the hopes of his nation for 20 years. He will have been bitterly disappointed not to have scored his hundredth international hundred at the home of cricket and also get his name on the honours board.

How the Little Master fares in the remaining three Tests will be crucial to the overall outcome. There will be huge pressure from their adoring, and highly critical public, for India to reverse their fortunes quickly. The fitness, or lack of it, of Zaheer will be absolutely crucial. Without him to spearhead the attack, coupled with the lack of a wicket-taking threat from Harbhajan Singh, rendered the Indian attack toothless at Lord's. Bar a five-over spell from Ishant Sharma on the fourth morning, the England batsman coped comfortably with everything India threw at them. With Zaheer unable to play in this Test, one of Sreesanth or Munaf Patel will take his place. Good bowlers both, but unlikely matchwinners.

India must also be looking at bringing back Yuvraj Singh to their line-up.If Gautam Gambhir is fit to play after his elbow injury, and serious doubts were raised by the Indians yesterday, then they may well look to drop young opening batsman Abhinav Mukund and move Dravid to the top of the order. Yuvraj would also offer some left-arm spin to aid the attack.

One area where India must improve in, irrespective of their selection, is their fielding. It was obvious that their fielding standards were poor throughout the Lord's game, in many instances well below those expected of international cricketers. The lack of athleticism by the Indians was in stark contrast to the excellent ground fielding exhibited by their opponents.

The contest also continues to have many intriguing sub-plots to it. India, world cricket's undoubted powerhouse, are never far away from controversy with this series no different. Whether it is the introduction of the decision review system, which is only in limited use for the series due to the BCCI's reservations, or the recent accusations of "bullying" by umpire Daryl Harper, the Indians will always stand firm in their belief they know what is right and wrong. They believe they are in their rightful place at the top of the rankings and will not give up their crown easily.

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In the lead-up to the first Test, England's only selection dilemma was to decide between Tim Bresnan and Broad for the final seam bowling position. Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss have long been supporters of Broad and would have been loath to drop him. As it transpired, after a first innings duck, Broad was a pivotal figure in the win taking seven for 94 and scoring a vital 74 not out in partnership with Prior. Broad at 25 years old and with 38 Tests already is still a young cricketer of huge potential and one that the England management see as a cornerstone of their future.

England's win masked another couple of low scores by Strauss, and he will be desperate to return to form at Trent Bridge. His second innings 32 was his highest score to date in six Test innings this summer, a statistic he will be looking to put right. Barring a last-minute fitness test for Tremlett, the home side will be unchanged. If Tremlett misses out, Bresnan will replace him which will not significantly weaken England, a situation far removed from that of India without Zaheer.

In these days of diminishing crowds for Test cricket, this series has caught the imagination of the cricketing public with the first four days of the Lord's Test completely sold out beforehand, and the final day also full after long queues outside the ground. The first four days at Trent Bridge are also sell-outs.The combination of the battle for number one, Tendulkar's chase for his elusive hundredth international hundred, Duncan Fletcher's return to the world cricket scene and the fierce rivalry between the two sides will hopefully come together to create something special.

The ICC, who are seeking to reinvent the Test game and give it "context" by creating a new Test championship see this iconic series as a flagship event for the game and have promoted it widely as the rebirth of the Test match.

After the first Test it is certainly delivering.