First Test: Character of Alastair Cook's England typified by Ben Stokes

IF anyone had suggested after England lost 10 wickets for 64 runs to lose to Bangladesh in Dhaka a fortnight ago that they would go on to score 500-plus in the first innings of their next Test in India, they would have been shoved in a straitjacket and whisked off to the nearest padded cell.

England batsman Ben Stokes celebrates after taking full advantage of sloppy India fielding and catching to reach his century in Rajkot (Picture: Rafiq Maqbool/AP).

The chances of England’s batsmen recovering from that humiliation against the superior opposition of the world’s No 1 side in their own backyard seemed about as distant as once did the probability of Donald Trump beating Donald Duck to the office of US president.

But sport and politics are unpredictable playgrounds and they have a habit of making a mockery of pundits and pollsters.

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With the Dhaka debacle still raw in the memory, England hit back to record 537 on the second day of the opening Test in Rajkot before India replied solidly to reach 63-0.

Conditions were rather more different in Dhaka, of course, where the ball spun so sharply that good length deliveries were almost in danger of pinning the square-leg umpire, but the mental scars were, no doubt, acute for Alastair Cook and his players.

England’s first-ever Test defeat to Bangladesh was rightly viewed with disbelief in this country, just as it was received with untrammelled joy on the sub-continent, so to fight back as strongly as Cook’s men did at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium was a notable effort.

Sizeable first innings scores are desirable at all times, and particularly so in Asia, where things can happen quickly and wickets can tumble as games progress.

Although most observers may favour the draw, a positive result cannot be discounted, and a lead of 474 was still a more than useful advantage for England to carry into day three.

It helps when your batsmen score hundreds, of course, and England had three centurions at Rajkot in the form of Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes.

Root’s 124 on the opening day set the tone for what England hope was not simply a promising start to the series but something rather more substantial than that, while Moeen extended his overnight 99 to 117 yesterday before offering no shot to Mohammad Shami and losing his off-stump.

Stokes, 19 overnight, went on to 128 before he was ninth out, strangled down the leg-side off Umesh Yadav.

It was the first time that England had had three centurions in a Test innings since Cook, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell against Sri Lanka at Cardiff in 2011, and it was just the second time that they had achieved that feat on the sub-continent after Geoff Pullar, Ken Barrington and Ted Dexter reached three figures against India at Kanpur in 1961.

Not that everything was plain sailing for the tourists.

India’s fielding was so poor that they could not have caught the proverbial cold, and Stokes was dropped at least three times yesterday in addition to landing several shots agonisingly out of fielders’ reach.

Fortune favours the brave, however, and Stokes is nothing if not brave with bat in hand.

Although his defensive work has clearly improved, he knows only one way to play as a general rule, which is to stick it up the opposition as much as possible.

England’s top-order have laboured lately, but their middle/lower-order have often bailed them out of tricky situations, and Stokes very much symbolises the positive way they have approached that task.

When the Durham man is at the crease, it is advisable only to go to the toilet if absolutely necessary, to switch off your mobile phone for fear of interruption, and to keep your eyes firmly on the action in case you miss something special.

It is exactly the same when Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow is at the crease.

The pair added 99 in 21.1 overs yesterday before Shami had Bairstow caught behind for 46.

Bairstow and Stokes have batted together 11 times in Tests, amassing 743 runs at 67.5 at a run-rate of 4.9.

It must be pretty demoralising for opponents who believe that they have half-finished the job when they have got England four or five wickets down.

Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid quickly followed Bairstow back to the pavilion before Zafar Ansari helped the tourists up and over the 500-mark.

From the depths of 10-64 two weeks ago to 537 spoke volumes for England’s character.