England v India, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's, 4th day July 20, 2014

Scars of the old era haunt England

It will take something remarkable for England to chase down their target and the more evidence that is displayed suggests more fresh faces need to brought into the team in place of mentally scarred seniors

Play 03:03
Chappell: Bell has a few things to sort out

The new era is only four Tests old, but already it is fighting for its life.

To see Alastair Cook trudging back to the pavilion after that old weakness, the tentative prod outside off stump, had been exposed once again, was to see a much loved but sickly family pet being taken to the vet for a one way visit. Really, it might be kinder to let him go now.

It was Cook upon whom this new look England team was founded. It was Cook who was supposed to supply the runs to empower that team; Cook who was supposed to grow into the role of captain and lead this side for the next four or five years.

But, after a run of form so grim that it should be hidden from the young, the pregnant and those with heart conditions, it is becoming increasingly hard to avoid the conclusion that it is not going to happen.

Nobody doubts Cook's good intentions or his determination. But he is now averaging 14.33 this year. He has now gone nine innings since reaching 30 and 27 innings since reaching 100. Since the start of the 2013 Ashes, he averages 23.62. This cannot go on.

For every sign of improvement in his captaincy - and there were a few at Trent Bridge - there is a counter sign that reinforces concerns. Some of England's tactics here - the six men on the boundary for a No. 10 batsmen; the barrage of short balls on a green wicket - have been baffling.

While he has certainly been let down by his senior players, one wonders how effectively Cook is leading them. Would James Anderson, whose on-pitch snarling does nothing to improve his bowling, have found himself in a position where he could be charged with a Level 3 offence under a stronger captain; a captain who might have nipped the argument with Ravindra Jadeja in the bud; a captain who might have told Anderson to stop the posturing and allow his bowling to do the talking?

And might a stronger captain have taken his leading seamers to one side after lunch on the fourth day when their awful bowling was allowing India to build a definitive lead? Might a stronger captain have either take them out of the attack or make it clear that they had to pitch the ball fuller? Instead Cook retained faith in them. Faith that has, of late, been largely misplaced. Blind, even.

But perhaps it is not the new era that is struggling. Perhaps the problem is that fragments of England's old era remain and continue to impede the fresh team that is attempting to break through. Perhaps this era is not new enough.

The new, or recalled, players - the likes of Gary Ballance, Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Liam Plunkett - are actually performing pretty well. It is the players of the old era who are failing. An old era that continues to decay.

England won the toss in a situation where that should have provided a match-defining advantage. They are playing against an India team who have not won a Test away from home since June 2011; a team of which only two had played a Test in England before this series; a team which has only won one Test at Lord's; a modest team in a rebuilding phase of its own

Anderson's bowling after lunch on the fourth day here was wretched. Petulant, immature and self-defeating, it was inspired more by bravado and anger than professionalism. Despite overwhelming evidence that it is the fuller delivery that is causing batsmen trouble on this pitch, 83% of the spell was short as Anderson, desperate to avenge what he sees as the injustice Jadeja has done to his reputation, seemed to allow his temper to get the better of him. Jadeja feasted upon it and played the innings that might well settle the game.

Matt Prior, meanwhile, looks a broken man. It is not simply that he has missed several chances, it is that, in no home Test since 1934, has an England keeper conceded more than the 36 byes Prior has conceded here. In the four Tests this summer, he has conceded 77 byes in all. There are, as ever, extenuating circumstances, but England are deluding themselves if they conclude anything other than the time has come to move on.

Even Ian Bell, who might be considered an option as captain if his own form was better, is struggling. Since his wonderful Ashes series last year, he has played nine Tests, batted 17 times and averaged 25.87 without a century. To be fair to him, he received a brute of a delivery that kept horribly low in the second innings here. But this side require more from their senior players and Bell is currently struggling to deliver.

What does all this tell us? Might it tell us that it is the England environment that is partially at fault? That those players scarred by events in Australia, wearied by the relentless schedule and jaded by exposure to the England coaching regime are no longer able to perform at their optimum? Might it tell us that the answer lies in new recruits? In a truly new age?

Some context is required. England won the toss in a situation where that should have provided a match-defining advantage. They are playing against an India team who have not won a Test away from home since June 2011; a team of which only two had played a Test in England before this series; a team which has only won one Test at Lord's; a modest team in a rebuilding phase of its own. If England cannot win in such circumstances, it is hard to envisage any in which they can.

There are parallels between this match and the Mumbai Test of November 2012. Then, just as now, the home team won the toss in conditions ideal for them but were defeated. In Mumbai it was England's spinners who out-bowled their counterparts; here the India seamers have out-bowled England's. Worryingly for England, they were out-bowled by Sri Lanka's for part of the previous series, too.

It should not matter if England pull-off a miracle run-chase on the final. It would simply mask problems that have become too obvious to ignore. The old order has failed; a new one must be ushered in.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rajan on July 26, 2014, 17:30 GMT

    Beautiful piece Mr Dobell. There is hardly a sport that combine its own inherent beauty with the setting in which its literature places it, as cricket is. Your insightful and evocative writing is among the best. Keep writing, so that we are all educated and entertained.

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2014, 23:32 GMT

    Bring Kevin Petersen back. Simple.

  • Parag on July 21, 2014, 9:47 GMT

    Irrespective of what the result is in this test match and irrespective of what the series scoreline reads after all the matches are played. I am interested in comments from people who made statements like -- >> India would be lucky if they avoid a white wash this time around >> India is not competent to take 20 wickets in five days on any pitch. blah, blah, blah and BLAH Yes, Indian bowling attack is not the ideal bowling attack one can be proud of!! But no one spoke of the chinks in the English armor when the series started. The very fact that India got a five match series was questioned to the core. That clearly sums up the loyalties of the predicting guys.

    My honest respect goes out to Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Murali Vijay -- stand out performers (esp. Kumar).

    If et all India wins this match (which they should), I suggest Dhawan should be replaced by Gambhir and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar should be promoted ahead of Binny. No need to play around with Rahane's order.

  • Paulo on July 21, 2014, 9:25 GMT

    @jackiethepen I knew you'd be here defending Bell. I bet even he himself doesn't believe half the stuff you say in his defence/admiration. And how do you defend/justify his performance in Australia?

  • Jeff on July 21, 2014, 9:10 GMT

    It's not a new era, the failing players were retained while the 2 best performing batsmen in KP and Carberry and the new wickie in Bairstow were dropped. Team should be Robson Carberry Ballance KP Root Stokes Bairstow (captain and wk) Jordan Anderson Onions Panesar.

  • Paulo on July 21, 2014, 8:55 GMT

    Once again Dobell has hit the nail on the head. He should be made England coach or some lead analyst or tactician in the set-up, because he talks such sense.

    "It should not matter if England pull-off a miracle run-chase on the final. It would simply mask problems that have become too obvious to ignore. The old order has failed; a new one must be ushered in."

    I agree completely. The worst thing that could happen is that England win, with Matt Prior making a 50 or something. It would probably convince the selectors that all is rosy. Like India in 2012, the best thing for England would be to lose, to force change. Even if it's just a change in attitude.

  • Jackie on July 21, 2014, 8:46 GMT

    I think you have to look at how batsmen get out. You can have a run of difficult balls or you could be getting out in the same way every time. This is the difference between Bell and Cook and it helps no one to keep lumping them together because they are both survivors of the Ashes debacle and not scoring runs. The key thing for Bell is not to give in to the kind of media pressure. The Indian commentators in the video seem to have a better grip on Bell's dismissals. There have been a couple of freakish balls behaving badly. Exactly the same could be said of Kohli by the way in this Series. He's had some difficult deliveries to face. Your team can relieve that kind of poor run by getting runs for you. If Bell just plays the ball and doesn't succumb to media pressure then his talent will come to his rescue.

  • Vaughan on July 21, 2014, 8:31 GMT

    Come on England... be inspired! Drop Prior, replace him with Foster to captain the side. Give Cook a chance as batsman only - considering Botham resigned the captaincy and suddenly performed, maybe just maybe Cook will do the same.

    Next test team...

    Robson, Cook, Ballance, Bell, Root, Ali, Stokes, Foster (capt - w/k), Broad, Plunkett, Anderson. (With Woakes on stand by)

    One of the big pluses of the test has been Ali's bowling though -which deserves applaud. It may also be time to rest one of Anderson or Broad and replace with Chris Woakes who will probably bowl smarter than Anderson

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2014, 8:15 GMT

    Looking at the fixtures on Cricinfo there are no test matches scheduled until May next year when New Zealand are over. Just a bunch of one day matches. Therefore each of these really tired and jaded England players should be looking at that as an extended break and putting everything in now. Prior should make way but otherwise all of those players that are struggling should be backed by everyone 100% and then all be signed off cricket until May.

  • Aditya on July 21, 2014, 8:01 GMT

    To ECB, Its a historic mistake of Sacking KP for Cook. If you want a team atmosphere rather than wins, slowly Cricket will be out of England. England unlike India have other sports to follow like EPL. Bit do bring KP in after the Indian Series :P

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