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Agonising Series defeat only worsens England's demise


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England came up just short when attempting to salvage a result from almost certain defeat at Headingley, being dismissed with only one ball of the match remaining. James Anderson failed to emulate his heroics of Cardiff 2009, and with it England's demise from number one test nation to record breaking losers (this was Sri Lanka's first ever series win in England) has hit a new low.

Much of the hype preceding the series wished to bill this as the beginning of a new dawn for England. A new (sort of) coach was drafted in, as were several players who had impressed on the county circuit. The visiting Sri Lankans have often been fodder for early season seam friendly pitches in England, and steamrolling them here would be the first step back on the road to retaining the Ashes in 2015. That the end result was something far different suggests England's problems delve much deeper than originally thought when being battered down under. There is no shame in losing to an Aussie side which had regained its swagger and aggression in their own back yeard. Having the fortress of home soil burnt down by a side seldom victorious on these shores is something altogether more alarming. There is little doubt now, England are yet to emerge from the crisis they slipped into over the winter. 

The England management can take some heart from what they saw over this short series. England played their way into winning positions in both test matches, it was their inability to hammer the final nail into the Sri Lankan coffin which allowed the opposition to regain a foothold in the match. Indeed, most of these winning positions were attained by some exceptional contributions by members of the emerging era. Gary Ballance's hundred at Lords gave England the sniff of victory they ultimately couldn't take. Sam Robson orchestrated a first innings lead at Lord's which should have far exceeded the paltry 108 it ended at. Liam Plunkett's nine wickets in the match could add a degree of hostility to an attack that was so blatantly exposed as rather meek when witnessing Mitchell Johnson's terrorising spells down under. So, England appear to have unearthed a new opening batsman, a new number three to replace Johnathon Trott, and a little spice to their bowling attack. England's defiant efforts on the final day at Headingley, encapsulated by a dogged hundred from Mooen Ali, also leave encouraging signs that England retain plenty of stomach for the fight. 

Despite the mentioned shreds of comfort, England have two major issues surrounding their side, and this series defeat has only served to exacerbate them further. The lack of a specialist spinner was left painfully clear when England's plan A of bouncing out Rangana Hearth in his partnership with Angelo Matthews failed to gain the desired conclusion. For all Mooen Ali's endeavour with bat in hand, his bowling is little better than a second spinner at present. There may only be two weeks until England are back on the pitch again against India, but questions over the balance of the side must be addressed. England must either trust Simon Kerrigan to banish his test debut nightmare and fulfil his potential as the country's best spinner. Or, play safe and select James Tredwell, utilising his one day expertise to tie up one end, much in same vein as Paul Harris did for South Africa for many years.

The current four man pace attack is unsustainable given the flat nature of test wickets in the modern age. England persisted so stubbornly with plan A during the Headingley test that it handed the initiative back to a Sri Lanka side who were on the ropes. Something which captain Cook much take responsibility for. During the Ashes down under he was often helpless in any attempts to derail the juggernaut that was Australia. Given home conditions and a considerably weaker opposition however, and Cook was still left looking painfully bereft of the tactical inspiration which might sway the match back into favour. Couple this with the now undeniable fact that the captancy is affecting his batting (he has now gone 24 innings without a century), and England must seriously consider the alternatives to who leads out the England side when India come to town. Ultimately, the genuine lack of a viable replacement may well see Cook keep his job. Broad is seen as too maverick, Bell not a strong enough character and Prior as not a long term option. Add to this the question marks that would be raised over Cook's place in the side were he to be sacked as captain, and it can be fairly safe to assume Cook will line-up as captain come July 9th.

The anti-climatic ending to England's much discussed evolution has only served to deepen the major flaws that currently surround the team. The much revered 'brand' of aggressive and fearless cricket has been embraced only sporadically during this short series. Unfortunately for England, they have just two short weeks to answer the questions that have now haunted them for six months.    

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