Broad left to rue 'average' days
There probably was an England side that could have reached the World Twenty20 semi-finals, but it was not the one which lost three matches out of five and, by virtue of a 19-run defeat against Sri Lanka in Pallakele, crashed out of the competition at the Super Eights stage. Sri Lanka have surely never entered a semi-final with more vigour since their breakthrough win in the World Cup 16 years ago. England, by contrast, never really found the way.
The team that will never be tested (always an advantage) would have included Ian Bell alongside Alex Hales and Luke Wright at the top of the order, it would have married Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan in the middle order - Pietersen thereby making spectators' hair stand on end in the crowd rather than making his own hair stand on end for the benefit of the TV studio - it would have recognised Samit Patel's ability against spin bowling at No. 6, and the young guns, Craig Kieswetter and Jonny Bairstow could have contested the keeping position at No 7. Jos Buttler would have been a stand-by batsman able to observe and learn his trade.
The imaginary team, or course, is just a concoction, another theory to go with countless others that flooded the social network sites as England crashed out of the tournament. The real England side, young and untutored in Asian conditions, competed and were found wanting. But they not as ordinary as many were suggesting.
Stuart Broad, a captain who has spoken throughout with a refreshing mix of positivity and candour, admitted: "We can look at missed opportunities but over the whole tournament we have not been good enough. What you get with young guys is some days absolute brilliance and other days a bit of averageness and I think as a team over the past three weeks we have shown a bit of both.
"The talent is certainly there. If you go onto Cricinfo these are the guys who are performing week in, week out in domestic cricket. It is very disappointing to go out because I know we have the firepower in that dressing room to go far."
England were pilloried for making three changes but that did not capture the reality. The inclusion of Patel and Jade Dernbach, in place of Tim Bresnan and Danny Briggs, who had played against New Zealand, was just a return to first principles.
"We changed the team for the New Zealand game and used Danny Briggs as an attacking option in the first six overs," Broad said. "Against Sri Lanka under lights it was unlikely a spinner was going to bowl in the first six with our seam attack. The pitch definitely changes under lights here. It gets quicker than in a day game."
They made one change: they dropped Kieswetter. It is hard to question his omission because he had become an increasingly troubled figure at the top of the order. "Kiesy has probably not had the three weeks he would like," Broad said. "I am sure he will bounce back but we had not had some very good starts in the last few weeks and with a must-win game we obviously wanted to rectify that."
It is fair, though, to wonder why England first picked Kieswetter at the top of the order and then seemed bent on entirely confusing him. While other sides continue to speak of the need to take advantage of the initial six-over Powerplay, get a flyer and then push the ball around against the spinners in the middle overs, England obsessed over statistics purporting to prove that retention of wickets won matches more often than not, especially when the likes of Morgan could explode in the later overs.
Kieswetter, who might imagine himself a potential match-winner as a pinch-hitter, suddenly found that his job description had entirely changed and he was expected to be more conventional, in which case Bell should have been a shoo-in. Unlike Wright, he was not mentally strong enough to cope with it.
It was quite a feat also for England to replace Kieswetter with the only batsman whose mental state was arguably even frailer, Ravi Bopara. He proved as much as he laboured six balls over a single before - however you want to dress it up - he missed a straight one. His England career will take some rescuing and only he can find the will to do it.
Bopara had tweeted two days earlier: "A whole day of FIFA I reckon. Nothing else to do in Kandy." Clearly the Temple of the Tooth, which tradition has it holds the tooth relic of the Buddha, did not appeal, the botanical gardens, with their wild orchid house, was equally untempting; and travelling deeper into the Hill Country was a no-no.
All the talk had been of how England would play Sri Lanka's spinners. Patel played them wonderfully well, although as Sri Lanka's captain, Mahela Jayawardene, pointed out, they were hindered to some extent by a heavier evening dew. Akhila Dananjaya, the 18-year-old legspinner, still found time to bowl Eoin Morgan on the reverse sweep.
The Dananjaya story, a youngster who was spotted by Jayawardene at a net session, and was thrust first into the Sri Lanka Premier League and then World Twenty20, is a curiosity in Sri Lanka; in England, where players are educated, processed, re-educated, re-processed, analysed, re-evaluated, re-analysed, discussed, tried and tested, it would be a miracle. It is the equivalent of somebody not quite interesting Leicestershire and then a few months later bowling Kumar Sangakkara. It is not about to happen.
"The way Samit Patel played the spin was very encouraging," Broad said. "He looked a class act out there. His big strength is how he plays the spin and hits over the off side. He made a few spinners go for a few runs tonight. That is a huge positive not just for the Twenty20 side but for England going forward. If we could have hung around and stayed with him, the last four or five overs can go for anything."
Neither could you entirely fault Broad's assessment of Lasith Malinga's decisive second over in which he removed Luke Wright, Jonny Bairstow (deceived by a slower ball, lest the England captain's description does not communicate this point) and Alex Hales, leaving England 18 for 3.
"Obviously those three wickets in the third over damaged us quite a bit," Broad said. "It is Twenty20 cricket, isn't it. Lasith got a short, wide one, caught point, he got one caught mid-off and he got a leg side lbw that was missing six stumps. But he bowled really well, he bowled full and straight and he showed the class that the IPL pays millions for. He obviously hurt us with those three wickets but they weren't jaffas were they? We just managed to get out to them."
And so, England's challenge ended. Now all that is left is the end game involving Kevin Pietersen. It is meant to be imminent. It probably is. But don't hold your breath.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo