Rain stops England’s openers piling up the runs

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England finished a drastically truncated first day of the fourth npower Test at The Oval with a useful initial advantage over India.

There was the hint of a gamble in Andrew Strauss’ decision to bat first, under heavy cloud cover. He could therefore be satisfied with an outcome of 75 for none in the 26 overs which proved possible before forecast rain moved in after lunch.

Strauss looked down rather than up, at a pitch likely to favour bowling last over batting, and took it upon himself and Alastair Cook to vindicate his judgment.

The openers duly engineered a highly encouraging start for the new International Cricket Council Test table-toppers, as they eye a 4-0 whitewash of India this summer.

There were few thrills, though, as Strauss and Cook’s efficiency dealt with with the new-ball questions posed by RP Singh and Ishant Sharma.

Singh, replacing the injured Praveen Kumar and back for his first Test in more than three years, struggled to find his range - and much worthwhile pace - in a tortured eight-minute first over to Strauss, interrupted several times by the inability of corporate guests to settle in boxes behind the bowler’s arm.

Controlled edges to third man off each bowler brought both batsmen an opening boundary. But it was not until the final ball of the 10th over, following the introduction of Shantha Sreesanth at the pavilion end, that Strauss contributed the first four off the middle of the bat - neatly timed off his legs.

The most notable moment of a grim and eventually rainy day came with Strauss on 24 when he made a hash of an attempted pull shot and was done for pace and bounce by Sharma, who hit him on the helmet and broke the England captain’s visor.

After two subsequent sessions of rain-induced inactivity, England could be further heartened by the prospect of much improved batting weather on Friday.