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

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