A series of missed opportunities
It was a series that promised a clean sweep but delivered a numbing draw. England took their eyes off the ball at crucial moments against Sri Lanka, and paid the price when Sri Lanka thumped them at Trent Bridge. Andrew Miller runs the rule over the performances.
His reverse-sweep for six off Muralitharan was one of the surest stamps of class and cockiness ever witnessed on a cricket pitch. Invincible for two Tests, he began to invite comparisons with the great Viv Richards, but proved fallible at the third time of asking, and was eventually swept away in the torrent of wickets at Trent Bridge. Nevertheless, he remains the dominant personality in this current England team: 2006 could be his year in the manner that 2005 was Flintoff's.
England's laughing stock had the last laugh at Trent Bridge, where he responded to the first spinner's surface of the summer with five hugely deserved wickets and a Test-best 26. His diffidence remains endearing, but nobody is doubting his bottle, as he rose above the heckles and seized his one chance to show the home crowds what he's really all about. He'll never look the part in the field, but stick a ball in his hand, and he could yet prove to be a world-beater.
Solid, dependable, dogged. Another typically grooved performance from England's shop-floor steward, who suffered only for the lack of penetration being offered at the other end. He needs Harmison and Co. to come back to fitness for his full worth to be recognised, but in their absence he soldiered on as best he could, passing 200 Test wickets at Lord's to underline his seniority in this transitional side.
Returned to the fray as if he'd never been away, scoring a cathartic century at Lord's to draw a line under his traumas of the winter. Never touched the same heights again, however, mustering 82 runs in four remaining innings, including two uncompleted starts at Trent Bridge. But given the ropiness of England's fielding performances, his solidity in the slips was worth an extra mark.
England's golden boy had a mixed maiden home series, arriving with an innings of understated class at Lord's, but fading in a blur of unorthodoxy, as Malinga and Murali exploited slight weaknesses in an otherwise tight and well-honed technique. It's nothing that experience won't rectify, and to that end he did well to hang tough while his senior colleagues faltered in the run-chase at Edgbaston. One major concern is his fallibility as a close catcher, with chances missed all round the wicket.
Mystery surrounded his omission at Trent Bridge, but it's fair to say that England missed his venom. Made a snorting start in the first Test at Lord's, reversing the ball at pace to derail Sri Lanka's top-order, and in the absence of Harmison and Simon Jones, he looked like a useful amalgam of both. Not quite so effective in his second appearance, but remains an important weapon to have in reserve.
This time, inspiration alone couldn't seal the series for Freddie. A disappointing time with the bat was compounded by the ankle problems that surfaced at Trent Bridge, and his captaincy lacked the spark of initiative that England often desperately needed. His bowling was hit-and-miss - he touched 92mph in one sizzling spell in the final match, but for much of the time he was still feeling the effects of the 68.3 overs he sent down at Lord's.
Fighting for his place as always, but failed once again to convince his many doubters. Showed in that century at Nagpur that he has a gear for all occasions, but hasn't found a similar touch this season. His 57 at Lord's was a grind that sat uncomfortably with Pietersen's flourish, while his 48 at Trent Bridge was undeniably brave, but didn't quite amount to the fightback England needed. Strange fallibility in the gully perhaps betrays his anxieties.
Got it right at the final attempt with a solid half-century before Murali ran amok, but short of form and focus in the preceding innings. Dropped catches and let his guard down with the bat as well, and with Vaughan's imminent return, needs runs to avoid being drawn into the Cook and Collingwood dogfight. Previous successes still count in his favour, of course, as do his captaincy credentials.
Who'd have thought his glovework would keep him in the side? A desperate return of 40 runs in four innings included a top-score of 19 that finished with a woolly charge down the track. But to his credit, he took 16 catches and a stumping, and but for two missed chances in that horror-show at Lord's, seemed far more assured than at this stage last summer.
If his omission at Lord's and Edgbaston was unfortunate, his selection at Trent Bridge was astounding. Performed admirably in the circumstances with a wicket in his first over and three in the innings, but was bland and pedestrian when the juice went out of the surface. One-cap wonders have been a rarity in the Fletcher regime - Gavin Hamilton and Ryan Sidebottom spring to mind - but sadly Lewis looks like joining that club.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo