Gary Ballance: a hundred in his second Test. Number three, tick. Sam Robson: a hundred in his second Test. Opening partner for Alastair Cook, tick.
Moeen Ali: a hundred in his second Test. Guts and class in the middle order, tick. Reasonable spinning option, tick, too, with two dismissals of Kumar Sangakkara – someone should tell Cook.
Liam Plunkett: nine wickets at Headingley, at less than twenty runs each. Joe Root: a double hundred with which, hopefully, to lay to rest the demons of the winter.
And yet here we are, with James Anderson fighting off tears in his end of series interview with Michael Atherton, and Kevin Pietersen and Shane Warne among a string of observers taking turns to put the boot in.
Certainly, and meaning no disrespect to Sri Lanka, no-one who cares about English cricket – players, staff, fans or media – should be content with this defeat. Much has already been said about the circumstances of both games – did they bat on too long into the fourth evening at Lord’s? Did they sit back too soon in the third innings at Headingley? – and much of it is justified.
The fourth day of a Test match often reflects what golfers would call ‘moving day’, and had Cook grasped the nettle on both occasions, 2-0 would have been entirely within reach, and would not have been an unfair reflection of the series.
On the other hand, both of the final day efforts, in very different circumstances, were monumental. Warne suggested at one point during a spell of television commentary that England need to decide what sort of team they want to be; while most of us on the outside (and doubtless quite a few on the inside too) would like them to be an attacking, risk-taking one, there is a hell of a lot worse than being fighters.
And so then, on to India, and England’s first five-Test series against a team other than Australia in nearly a decade. All is far from hopeless for the hosts.
Their visitors arrive on these shores having lost their last four away series by a combined score of 10-0 (not to mention their home defeat by England in 2012-3), and they have only three players in their squad with Test experience in England.
Meanwhile, Ben Stokes, with 20 wickets in four county matches this season at a bowling average of under 24 and an Ashes hundred under his belt, is banging on the door for a place in the England team, and if they can string together a few decent county performances, there is certainly an opportunity for an Adam Riley, a Scott Borthwick or a Simon Kerrigan to build a case for inclusion in the side for the next ten years.
So maybe things aren’t so bad after all.
In his heart of hearts though, one suspects that Cook knows that he is a rearguard fighter, that he is not, in the end, the captain to take England into a brave new world. So while he remains at the helm, let him treat this as an opportunity.
Let him, Moores and the ECB identify a man with vision, intuition, decisiveness and confidence – either within the current team or coming through the county circuit – and start to groom him for international leadership. Maybe then England can truly decide, as Warne would wish, what sort of team they want to be.
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