London // England finished a drastically truncated first day of the fourth Test at The Oval Thursday with a useful initial advantage over India.
There was the hint of a risk in the decision by Andrew Strauss, the England captain, 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 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 judgement.
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.
There were few thrills, though, as Strauss and Cook dealt 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.
The England captain lost part of his protective equipment but not his cool - and after calling for a replacement helmet, suffered no more alarms in conditions which looked made for seam and swing but did not offer nearly as much help as India must have hoped.
After two subsequent sessions of rain-induced inactivity, England could be further heartened by the prospect of much improved batting weather Friday.
But that optimism will be offset by a longer-term forecast suggesting more time could be lost to weather on the final two days of this match. And that could compromise the opportunity for the hosts to end this series with a fourth successive victory.