Now comes the tricky bit. Over the last month Eoin Morgan’s England side has demonstrated why the ODI rankings, though never rock-solid reliable, give a helpful reflection of the strength of the various teams around the world. England have just played eight 50-over matches against Australia and India and won seven of them. Now the Test team must seek to emulate that success rate.
England’s final ODI victory, at Headingley, was the most emphatic. Morgan and his side were happy to embrace the notion that this was a “final”, a one-off match the like of which they should eventually encounter in the World Cup next year, and they responded superbly to that self-imposed challenge.
Less surprising but just as reassuring has been the batting of Joe Root. Two consecutive centuries move him up to second in the ODI rankings, which is of minimal significance, but his return to form is timely before the Test series begins. He is now more at ease with himself.
Not that he has been struggling to locate the ball in 2018. “It’s been a weird summer. It is not as if I’ve felt out of form or that there have been some glaring errors. And that is why it has been more frustrating,” he said after the Headingley victory. He has been more comfortable back at No 3 in the ODI side and he has calmly rationalised how to respond to being dismissed by two of the first three balls he received from Kuldeep Yadav, the left-arm wrist spinner, who has just been included in India’s Test squad.
“I didn’t use Merlin,” Root said. “But I looked at the three balls I faced from him. It is easy to over-analyse and I was picking him fine but my movements were not quick enough. My footwork was not sharp enough. Your contact point needs to be as close or as far away [from the bounce of the ball] as possible.” Like most of the best players Root more frequently plays spinners off the back foot, which is a frustration to bowlers, but this method can cause the batsman problems if his timing is awry.
Root had calmly assessed his shortcomings and resolved them in a model manner and this was a theme he was happy to return to when looking to the Test series, which begins at Edgbaston on 1 August. “Of course there are so many differences between the two formats,” he said, “but as far as the attitude to learning and developing goes among the ODI side we will be trying hard to replicate that in the Test team.”
The assumption is that the ball will not turn so readily in the series against India but England may need two spinners in their Test squad. This means they will consider a recall for Moeen. The players have a round of Championship matches to re-engage with a red ball and Root seemed to be relishing the prospect of playing in the Roses match at Old Trafford, starting on Sunday. To assess the spin options the selectors will surely keep an eye on Worcestershire’s game with Somerset. Moreover, they will surely want Ben Stokes in their side to give Root plenty of options in the field.
Stokes will not be available for the second Test at Lord’s since this coincides with his trial in Bristol but Root indicated this would not prompt the selectors to ignore him for Edgbaston on the grounds that he might be too distracted. “We will pick our best team”, he said. “If Ben is fit to play, he is up for selection.He loves playing cricket; he has been fully engaged and he wants to be involved.”