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Agonising end to a season of crumbs

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We couldn't have tried much more - Root (1:15)

The England captain reflects on the drawn Test in Christchurch, the lost series in New Zealand, and the poor results during the winter tours (1:15)

As England strove to secure victory on the final evening in Christchurch, captain Joe Root was on his knees at silly point. It was an apt metaphor for England's Test winter. Being denied by New Zealand's lower order meant they are now winless away from home in a record 13 matches.

There was a desperation to have something to show for their Test season in Australia and New Zealand. When the final session began, with four wickets needed and the threat of bad light which didn't eventuate until the bitter end, it was all hands on deck. The non-playing squad members were distributed around the boundary to get the ball back quickly if needed with even the team manager, masseuse and doctor called into action.

And it all ended with the ultimate bittersweet moment as Root finally extracted Neil Wagner, only by the time the DRS had been used the umpires had finally bowed to the fading light. It was not a decisive call, there were only two minutes left of playing time in any event, but it felt symbolic for a side who just can't get back to winning ways away from home.

An England win had felt close to a sure thing in the morning session when Stuart Broad struck with the first two deliveries of the day then Jack Leach and James Anderson followed with wickets inside the first hour. But then things got tougher as the ball softened further and the second new ball refused to offer Anderson, Broad or Mark Wood anything.

The series concluded with all of England's fielders crowded around Wagner and Ish Sodhi to pace and spin with Root, Mark Stoneman and Alastair Cook fielding on their knees at times to try and grab hold of one of the dead-batted defensive shots that refused, mostly, to go to hand although a couple did escape the grasp.

"We threw absolutely everything at them," Root said. "We tried a number of different things, and I don't think we could have tried much more. I'm very proud of the lads and the way they went about it, and how we continued to keep asking questions of them. It's very frustrating. I thought we had a very good opportunity coming into today, and we had a fantastic start."

This was England's best performance in the longest format of the 2017-18 season, although they have not always set a particularly high bar - especially last week in Auckland where they were bowled out for 58. As it should, a performance like that proved costly.

England will leave Christchurch with many of the same questions that were on their minds on arrival in Perth more than five months ago: uncertainty over the batting order and personnel, an over-reliance on Broad and Anderson, the difficulty of taking 20 wickets and a lack of hundreds - not least from the captain himself.

"There will be a lot of frustrated people at home and a lot of frustration within the side," Root conceded. "We've not performed to our ability and not got the results we wanted. It's been very disappointing.

"I thought throughout this week in particular we've definitely been more adaptable. Bar that 58 in the first innings of the first Test match, we've looked a much better side with the bat as well. You take that innings out of the series, and it looks very different - which is really frustrating, because we're a far better side than that."

There are crumbs to take with them: Dawid Malan had a solid Test season despite a couple of failures in New Zealand, Jonny Bairstow made two centuries in seven Tests, Jack Leach's debut showed promise, and when Ben Stokes is fully fit to bowl the balance of the side will be helped.

"We're nowhere near the finished article, or where we want to be as a side, but I do think we've got some very talented cricketers in this format," Root said. "We'll continue to keep working hard, pushing ourselves and find a formula that really works for us abroad.

"We'll take a lot of confidence from how it's worked this week. I hope we can build on it and have a very successful summer."

For the Test side, the home season includes visits by Pakistan and India. The former drew their 2016 series 2-2 and the latter are primed to try and repeat the series victory of the 2007 side on English soil. If it is presumed that Cook isn't wavering on his desire to continue his career - and Root insisted that is the case - then it is very possible that the top seven that played in Christchurch will be the top seven at Lord's against Pakistan.

Stoneman made two fifties in this series and James Vince a second-innings 76 at the Hagley Oval, but neither have nailed down a spot. The third paceman role is also debatable although the balance of the attack in Christchurch - with Wood's pace and Leach's steady spin - looked better. However, Root hinted that places remained up for grabs.

"You go into the start of the summer, and you've got to go out and perform," he said. "Guys who are in the shirt have got to go and prove to everyone that they're an international player. I do think there are some very talented players who are capable of special things in an England shirt. It's up to them to go and prove it at county level."

Similar sentiments were being echoed a year ago. Nothing has really changed. The concern now is that England's overseas problems could start to erode a healthy home record that has propped up their Test standing over the last two years. Root's job isn't about to get any easier.