England Vs India Marks out of 10: England take the lead to fuel belief of number one status

What a fantastic Test match and what a great victory for England. Their slightly undercooked opponents looked a little rusty and were never quite a match for the on-song hosts of the 2,000th Test match of all time.

Below are my marks out of ten for the two sides:

India:

Abhinav Mukund – 6/10

This was a plucky first outing at Lords for the youngster filling in for the rather more illustrious figure of Virender Sehwag. A breezy knock in the forties in the first innings demonstrated confidence and a desire to show real intent at the crease even when opening in a Test match.

Gautam Gambhir – 3/10

Nothing really from Gambhir in his new found role as the senior member of India’s opening partnership in the absence of Sehwag. Two small contributions and a nasty whack on the elbow to boot. He will hope the bruising and swelling has eased up a little for Trent Bridge, and after this lacklustre showing England may want to see him fit for action too.

Rahul Dravid – 8/10

First Lords Ton for 'The Wall'

Magnificent showing amidst a real lack of support en route to a first innings hundred. It was his first at the home of cricket and boy did he deserve it. It was a typically rear-guard hundred from ‘The Wall’ and it was just what India needed at the time. Despite not following it up with an equally important knock second time out he must go down as India’s star performer of the Test.

Sachin Tendulkar – 3/10

Usually the man for a crisis but not this time out for the ‘Little Master’. Two knocks of no real note and a bout of the flu for his troubles. Maybe he will get another chance to ton-up for the first time at Lords in what has been an incredible career. If his chance does come again then he might want to score with a little more fluency than today when at one point he had gone 39 deliveries without scoring a run.

VVS Laxman – 4/10

Just when India needed an experienced head to play himself in and settle alongside Dravid in the first innings Laxman holed out in miserable fashion. A flimsy paddle down to deep-square saw him perish and with it went much of India’s optimism. He did somewhat redeem himself in the second innings in an unfamiliar role at number three in the order by making a half-century, but he didn’t hang on long enough to have a real impact upon proceedings.

Suresh Raina – 5/10

The youngster showed real character to follow up a two-baller in his first innings with a rear-guard half-century in the second. Sadly for India his efforts were cut-short when he ran out of partners in the early evening.

MS Dhoni – 3/10

His two minor showings with the bat are worth half a mark, his attempt to at least try and Captain a side ravaged with injury and illness is worth another half, his OK glove-work is worth another half and the nerve as Captain and Keeper to throw off his gloves and turn an arm is worth the rest of his 3 out of 10.

Harbhajan Singh – 2/10

‘The Turbanator’ was ineffective with the ball in both innings as the spinners toiled on the pristine Lords’s track. Add into the mix a wimpy edge outside of off to Chris Tremlett in the first innings and a remarkably poor stroke to hole out in the second and you might come to the conclusion that he had a poor game.

Praveen Kumar – 7/10

The inexperienced military medium swing bowler was the only man to step up in Zaheer Khan’s absence from the attack for most of the first innings. As such he was very deserving of his five-for and he backed this up with a confident but brief lower order knock to help India scrape past the follow-on target.

Zaheer Khan – ?

India will be hoping their attack leader returns at Trent Bridge

A spectator for the majority of the game due to a hamstring strain but his two showings with the bat yielded no runs, not that it would have been him running them anyway. For the early stage of the game when he was fit for action he was very good and he had taken the only two English wickets prior to his injury.

Ishant Sharma – 6/10

Nothing with the bat at 11 and found wanting in a wicketless first innings of bowling. Found his rhythm in the second English innings and for a brief period revelled in tearing apart their top order. However, lunch then came to England’s rescue and Sharma was inexplicably held back for around 40 minutes after this break. When he came back on the aura had gone, promising signs though.

England:

Andrew Strauss – 4/10

Coming in off the back of two top-class knocks in India’s warm-up game the England captain again faltered a little with the bat. Two scores of no great note, but decent captaincy en route to one of the finest Test wins under his guidance.

Alistair Cook – 1/10

Brought back down to earth with a bump. There simply had to be a Test match coming up where Cook wouldn’t fill his boots and this was it. Hopefully better things to come as the series progresses.

Jonathan Trott – 6/10

Important gritty knock of 70 in the first innings in the worst of the conditions but failed to match t up with another good one in the second innings.

Kevin Pietersen – 9/10

KP has described this as his best Test knock

Glorious return to form for KP on one of his most prolific stomping grounds. His third Test double-hundred was outstanding and full of determination and maturity. He went through the motions in this most magnificent of innings, starting out slow in tricky conditions and cutting loose in the sunshine. Shame he tarnished his performance with a cheap dismissal for just 1 in the second innings but still got MOM.

Ian Bell – 4/10

Just as was the case for Cook, there was bound to be a Test where Ian Bell wouldn’t score big and this was it. Fluent forty or so in the first before falling victim to Sharma’s period of destruction in the second. Bell will be hoping this duck wasn’t a sign of things to come.

Eoin Morgan – 2/10

A poor showing from Ireland’s (and England’s) finest. Nothing to speak of with the bat and dropped poorly when the pressure was on to dismiss India in their second innings.

Matt Prior – 10/10

This hundred may well be Prior's most important innings for England thus far

Not the official MOM, but certainly got my vote. Really outstanding performance from England’s wicketkeeper/batsman. A brisk and exciting 70 odd in the first innings was followed up by an incredible unbeaten hundred in the second innings. Add to this an almost flawless performance with the gloves at Lords where keeping is notoriously tough and you can see why he is fast establishing himself as the finest number seven in world cricket.

Stuart Broad – 9/10

Broad allayed any fears over a lack of form

Came into this Test under the cosh with many feeling his place should have gone to Tim Bresnan. Maybe this was the spur behind an outstanding performance with bat and ball. He took the first three wickets of India’s first innings including that of Tendulkar en route to a four-for and followed this up with two more wickets in the second innings when if it weren’t for some suspect fielding and umpiring he could have had at least another two. A golden duck in England’s first innings was less than impressive but his unbeaten 74 alongside the majestic Prior helped save England from meltdown in their second innings. If only time were on his side he might have gone on to score a second Test hundred and it was fitting that he got the match sealing wicket.

Graeme Swann – 6/10

Like Harbajhan he struggled to really impress with the ball but he did comfortably out-bowl his opposite number. In addition to his efforts with the ball he provided able assistance with the bat when KP cut loose in England’s first innings, this contribution helped them assert their authority over their opponents at an early stage of the match.

Chris Tremlett – 7/10

Never looked fully fit but strived hard for his wickets and kept charging in to the bitter end. He got his reward with the prize scalp of Dhoni after tea on the last day and that seemed to be the spark needed to topple the lower order. Hopefully his niggles are minor and he will be all guns blazing come Friday.

James Anderson – 7/10

Not vintage all the way through from Jimmy but a great showing in India’s second innings. He eventually managed five-for and got his name on the honours board again at Lords, he will be disappointed with his lacking performance with the ball in India’s first innings though.

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Will England prove themselves the new Lords of the Test arena

The world’s number one ranked side are coming to town and England must prepare for what could be their greatest challenge of recent years. India are currently rated the outstanding side in all forms of world cricket and England’s aspirations to usurp them at the top of at least the Test format rely heavily upon their forthcoming series.

Will Sachin be saluting his 100th International ton at Lords?

The challenge before them seems incredibly tough with India having unsurprisingly brought a fresh and full-strength squad after resting key names in their series against the West Indies. The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Zaheer Khan, Harbajhan Singh and MS Dhoni will all return looking to add to their already well founded track records in English conditions.

Add to this the enthusiasm and raw talent of their younger charges such as Ishant Sharma and England’s task really does appear to be formidable.

England’s long-term goal to become the greatest Test side in the world may not be such a huge problem as India are currently have an old squad which may be superb for now, but a period of transition is surely inevitable.

Soon masters of the sport like Tendulkar and Dravid will have to retire and the baton will be passed to the younger crop of talent. We await to see if the likes of Sharma can handle the pressure and continue to achieve when the experienced heads aren’t there to support them.

Sharma will be hoping to take on England's openers

For now though England must not get ahead of themselves. They have to prepare for the challenge of facing up to the most complete side they have encountered in years. This level of opposition has probably not been seen before an English Test side since the swan song of Australia’s ‘Golden Generation’ in the 2007 Ashes series Down Under. Sadly we all remember only too well how that went.

Having mentioned such dark days it is important to underline that England have come along way since then in all formats of the game. This is probably attributable to the set-up in place to support the current English sides in all forms of the game. Head Coach Andy Flower along with major back-room staff David Saker, Graham Gooch and Richard Halsall has seen major improvements across all of bowling, batting and fielding. Such improvements have seen an increase in confidence and ‘aura’ surrounding this England side, as was highlighted so much throughout the unforgettable 2005 Ashes series. With an increased level of confidence in their ability, England have gone on to record back-to-back Ashes series victories both at home and abroad and have become the reigning World Twenty20 Champions. Though successes in the 50 Over format have been limited by contrast, the recent series victory against World Cup finalists Sri Lanka points towards a new and more positive approach to One-Day Internationals.

England's backroom staff watch on against Sri Lanka

At present it seems that the Test format is England’s strongest suit and that is why such emphasis has been placed upon achieving that number one ranking. The management and selectors of the Test side appeared to have invested a great deal of optimism and confidence in our current Test squad. There has been something of an epiphany regarding the depth of talent there ready and available for the selectors at present, and a realisation that we can now boast many of the world’s finest Test match cricketers.

The management appear to have aided the rise of players such as Alistair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Graeme Swann and James Anderson into the current world forces in their particular disciplines. Alongside these in-form stars England can now boast a truly matured and World-Class wicketkeeper/batsman in Matt Prior, a brooding Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad striving to recapture their finest form and an innovative, quick-scoring, middle-order run machine in Eoin Morgan.

KP and Broady will be hoping to rise to the occasion

Perhaps the most exciting part of the English game at present though is the fast-bowling department. In addition to the truly world class Anderson, England have a long queue of outstanding talent in this area. Messrs Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn, Tim Bresnan, Ajmal Shahzad, Graham Onions and Jade Dernbach have all represented their country within the past eighteen months and have each impressed. For now Tremlett appears to be a dead-cert in the line-up courtesy of some outstanding form after being brought in to the side halfway through the Ashes. Aside from this England could pick any one of the remaining six contenders to fill the remaining slot in their much-feared four man attack.

It seems likely that the selectors will stick with the currently out-of-form Broad, with his case strongly supported by the rewards reaped from having stuck with fellow youngster Alistair Cook in his times of trouble last summer. It seems that his ability to contribute quick and important runs down the order even if he isn’t firing with the ball may well maintain the edge he has over other potential suitors in the meantime. However, Broad must deliver and do it soon otherwise the others will start to prowl. This is the beauty of England’s current predicament, there really does appear to be a list of players able to step in to fill any non-firing members of the side. Few players are entirely safe in their position for the first time in a long time and this competition can only improve the current squad on a consistent basis.

With conditions likely to favour them, expectations of England are very high going into this series. They may be up against some of the finest players ever to play Test cricket, but they should aim high. They themselves now have really outstanding players, a mix of genuine raw talent and realised potential.

If they remain optimistic and perform to the best of their ability then I believe that they can prove the great strength of their current side and come out victorious. Having said that, it really will require their very best otherwise the series will be India’s for the taking. Both sides contain genuine match-winners and it should make for an intriguing battle, this is however dependent on whether the marvellous English summer allows some more cricket than it did against Sri Lanka.

Will the most open World Cup in memory serve up England’s greatest triumph?

England’s quest for the completion of an incredible year has this week reached the quarter-final stages of the World Cup. To complete the treble of Twenty20, Ashes and World Cup glory would have to be considered a year of unprecedented success, however, in order to achieve this they must first overcome Sri Lanka at fortress Premadasa.

England’s campaign thus far has been far from convincing. Defeats at the hands of associate side Ireland and the horribly out-of-form Bangladesh have called into question the fatigue-levels and mental state in the camp off the back of a busy winter, but England will know their work is far from done. They must keep in mind just how huger achievement it would be to complete this mission and that the end really is in sight. Their mentality in the bigger games has appeared committed thus far and that is the way things must remain.

England have demonstrated a major weakness against spin and the challenge of the master Muttiah Muralidaran, the famed ‘mystery-spinner’ Aganta Mendis and the in-form Tilekeratne Dilshan could well prove too much. ‘Murali’ and Mendis in particular can win this match single-handedly, couple that with the rampaging threat of Lasith Malinga and the task presents it’s own case. Though England undoubtedly boast match-winners too, it seems that Sri Lanka’s stars are far more fresh and in-form. In fact, some of England’s ‘X-Factor’ players such as Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad have already succumb to injury and left for home. Is it really possible for England to win this tournament without arguably their best one-day batsman and arguably their best one-day pace-man? The jury is very much out.

One thing is for sure, even if England do progress there is still a mountain to climb to win the tournament. With favourites South Africa the likely semi-final opponents and the prospect of the in-form Pakistan, hosts India, or reigning champions Australia waiting in the final it is clear for all to see that England are far from being crowned champions. Captain Andrew Strauss will be praying that the ‘dark-horse’ tag hanging round England’s necks at present will work in their favour as they seek some serious improvements going into these knock-out stages.

It has been a fantastic tournament so far, founded primarily upon the trials and tribulations of England’s campaign. They have been involved in arguably five of the greatest games of the tournament out of the six they have played, and have provided outstanding entertainment, if not any level of consistency. Players and fans alike will be hoping for victory this Saturday, but in truth I think the task is just too much for them. I tip Sri Lanka for victory and progression to a final against India. If this is the case then I believe India will rule triumphant on home-turf.

Whatever the outcome eventually is, it seems we are set for yet more excitement and hopefully a couple more surprises along the journey. England will hope to continue slipping under the radar and finding crucial victories from somewhere in the murky depths of the imagination, which so far they have stretched to it’s fullest extents. Perhaps only New Zealand are less favoured for glory, but Captain Strauss would be wise not to focus on this. They have one objective now and that is to win, we await to see if this is in fact achievable or whether it is more just a romantic pipe-dream.