England draw but important questions not answered

ENGLAND extended their sequence without victory to nine Tests as the Investec series opener against India reached the most predictable of stalemates at Trent Bridge.

Under-fire England captain Alastair Cook enjoyed more success with the ball than the bat. Picture: Reuters
Under-fire England captain Alastair Cook enjoyed more success with the ball than the bat. Picture: Reuters
Under-fire England captain Alastair Cook enjoyed more success with the ball than the bat. Picture: Reuters

The hosts had just the most fleeting and improbable glimpse of opening up a run chase when India lost three wickets in the first hour of the final morning, but debutant Stuart Binny (78) emphatically restored order.

For good measure, as India closed out the inevitable on 391 for nine declared, Bhuvneshwar Kumar (63no) bagged his second half-century of the contest – and his Test career – as a lifeless surface had the final say.

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England arrived here, after their shock series defeat against Sri Lanka, with issues over the batting form of captain Alastair Cook and the workload to come this summer for frontline pace bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

After only five runs for Cook, taking his annual tally to 97 in seven innings, and 113 overs to no avail for Anderson and Broad, there is no less cause for concern.

This match appeared almost from the outset to be heading for a draw, or at any rate since the earliest realisation four days ago that an alarming absence of pace in the pitch would surely stop either team forcing a result.

For a few minutes of a cloudy morning, after Broad took two of three wickets to fall, there was just the outside possibility England could continue that rate of progress.

But Binny had other ideas in stands of 65 with Ravindra Jadeja for the seventh wicket and then 91 with Kumar for the eighth.

England, and Broad in particular, briefly found the secret of how to make the most of conditions which confounded bowlers on both sides almost throughout. After rain caused a delayed start, from the apparently untroubled resumption point of 167 for three, India lost three wickets for 21 runs.

Broad, as so often for England, was the catalyst. He began by having Virat Kohli lbw toppling over in defence, and it was swing too that then made Ajinkya Rahane edge behind.

Broad should also have had Mahendra Singh Dhoni caught at slip – where Cook, necessarily advanced to mitigate against the lack of carry, could not hold an obvious chance.

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Broad, bowling in tandem with Anderson, nonetheless served up an impressive spell of two for six in six overs – and when his replacement Liam Plunkett ensured Cook’s drop would not be costly by defeating Dhoni’s loose drive and bowling the India captain with a touch of inswing, it seemed England might just have a shot at victory after all.

Jadeja, however, was in the middle of a curious but valuable innings and his partnership with Binny took critical time out of England’s attempts to force the pace.

The left-hander played and missed numerous times, and needed 38 deliveries to get off the mark, which he eventually did by walking at Anderson and smashing a four back over the bowler’s head.

He and Binny stalled England until after lunch when, with the second new ball in his armoury, Anderson had Jadeja pushing slightly away from his front pad and edging another to Matt Prior.

Binny found a second ally in Kumar, however, and as it doubtless dawned on Cook that this game was up, the best he could do was ensure no further pointless exercise for Broad and Anderson with another four Tests to come in the next 37 days.

Binny took advantage, as he and Kumar milked the runs on offer at a rate of more than four-and-a-half an over and he passed his maiden Test 50 in 86 balls. Moeen Ali (three for 105) turned one from round the wicket to beat Binny’s forward push and win another lbw verdict. But, by tea, the only remaining interest centred on whether India would engineer a situation in which opener Cook batted with time left only to fail again.

They opted against an early declaration, and instead the contest concluded with a series of comedy impressions from Cook with the ball – and, in only his third Test over, his first wicket when Ishant Sharma was nonchalantly caught by Prior down the leg-side.

It was perhaps fitting, in circumstances which had often precluded conventional entertainment and left the crowd having to make their own fun, that in the end the players had to do likewise.

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For England, and Cook in particular, the serious stuff will be starting again soon enough – at Lord’s on Thursday.