England v Sri Lanka, 5th ODI, Edgbaston June 4, 2014

England must confront failings to improve

There were some admirable aspects to England's cricket in this series but they are going to need to rethink their tactics for the World Cup

England would be deluding themselves if they hid behind the unusual - let us not call a textbook dismissal controversial - wicket of Jos Buttler for their defeat at Edgbaston.

To do so would be to ignore the four catches they dropped in the Sri Lankan innings, the 12 extras they conceded in wides, their failure to bat through 50 overs and that several of their batsmen, yet again, batted without purpose.

It would also ignore that this was the third game they had lost in a series in which conditions were stacked in their favour. And, most of all, it would ignore the fact that, at the time of the Buttler incident, England were 197 for 6 in the 44th over. Twice they had gone seven overs in their innings without hitting a boundary. They were already coming second.

There were some admirable aspects to England's cricket in this match and in this series. The fight they showed in the field, the rediscovered bite in the bowling of James Anderson and the threat offered by James Tredwell were all impressive. And nothing in cricket is more certain than the inclusion of Chris Jordan in England's Test squad to be announced on Thursday.

But after another loss - their 10th in their last 17 completed ODIs - and another series defeat - their third in four series - it has become apparent that England are going to need to rethink their tactics if they are to progress beyond the minimum requirement of the quarter-final stage at the World Cup.

England's batting is their primary concern. Not only do their batsmen score too slowly - Ian Bell was the only one of the top six to score at a rate in excess of 80 runs per 100 balls in this series; Alastair Cook limped along at a strike-rate of 63.63 - but they fail to retain their wickets.

Apart from Buttler's century at Lord's - a century that did much to mask another generally dismal performance by England - their next highest score in the series was just 64. To put it another way, England's top six contributed four half-centuries between them in the entire series with Gary Ballance's 64 remaining the highest score. They continue to miss Jonathan Trott - one of the key men in helping them to the final of the ICC Champions Trophy - terribly.

They also missed an opportunity in this series. They missed the chance to take a look at the likes of James Vince, James Taylor and Alex Hales at this level. They missed the chance to try something new. They missed the chance to formulate a strategy that could serve them at the World Cup. Their selection, like their tactics, was timid. And timid sides win nothing.

So it is a shame that Cook would label Angelo Mathews' decision to sustain the appeal against Buttler "a pretty poor act" in the immediate aftermath of the game. While Cook, to his credit, also admitted that England's batting had been poor throughout the series and that their total at Edgbaston was 20 below par, he must have known that, once he criticised his counterpart, such confessions would be lost amid the fallout. Perhaps a stronger leader would have declined the opportunity to make excuses and admitted his side's failings.

England would be deluding themselves, too, if they hid behind the bowling action of a Sri Lankan spinner. Whether it is suspect or not - independent testing will reveal the answers over the next few weeks - England will face many similar actions around the world. The sooner they accept that the world has moved on, that mystery spin is only a mystery to them, the better.

In years to come, perhaps when Moeen Ali has normalised the doosra in England, mystery spin will be viewed in the same way as reverse swing: a key skill in obtaining movement on flat pitches. And just as England's mistrust of reverse swing eventually turned into acceptance and even affection, the same will happen with mystery spin.

It would be nice, too, if England simply stopped talking about the spirit of cricket. It is not relevant when their batsmen decline to walk. It is not relevant when their batsmen, in fighting for a draw, change their gloves and ask for drinks in order to use up time. It is not relevant when their bowlers sledge or try to persuade the umpire to change a ball that is not swinging. And it is not relevant when they lure coaches from opposition teams weeks before they face them in a series.

All such issues are seen - right or wrong - as part and parcel of the professional game. So to talk of spirit only when they lose leaves them looking weak, graceless and hypocritical. Only by confronting their failings and not grasping for excuses will they start to improve.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo