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Rattled England seek calm heads in bid to pull themselves out of Test nosedive

It might be hard to remember right now but, just five years ago, England were chastised for winning a Test in Leeds too slowly.

It only took them four days - the first day of that match against New Zealand was lost to rain - but, such were expectations of England at the time, winning wasn't enough. They had to win with style; they had to "show intent" and "aggression" and "positivity". Later that summer, England won the Ashes 3-0 and were criticised for a lack of joie de vivre. Joni Mitchell almost certainly wasn't thinking about cricket when she wrote "you don't know what you have til it's gone" ... but still.

How England must hanker for those days. They come into this game having won none of their last eight Tests - and lost six of them - and in danger of slipping to not only a third-successive series loss but, if they are defeated, No. 7 in the ICC's Test rankings. For a nation with their financial advantages - the investment they are able to put into development programs, overseas tours, coaching (remember, two of their coaches were working for another nation when they were recruited) and player salaries - that should be a national embarrassment. England won't care how ugly the performance is, they just want and need a win.

As they have won just two of their last eight Tests in Leeds - and lost 16 of their last 30 Tests everywhere - it is hard to be wildly optimistic. To make matters worse, Ben Stokes was reduced to a peripheral role in training - he did not bowl at all - due to his hamstring strain, while Jonny Bairstow had his left knee heavily strapped after appearing to hurt himself in a pre-training football match. Bairstow is certain to play but Stokes will have a scan on Thursday and a fitness test on Friday morning. He is a significant doubt.

There is also some doubt about the new recruits. Keaton Jennings averages 26.18 in first-class cricket since he was dropped from the Test team in August - which hardly makes a compelling case for a return, though he has made centuries in his two most recent first-class innings - while Jos Buttler is still without a first-class century since January 2014. Dom Bess, meanwhile, for all his class with the bat, was less convincing with the ball. When Ed Smith was appointed as the new selector, there was speculation that he may apply a data-heavy analysis to the role. It currently appears he is going far more by instinct than evidence.

There may well be consequences if England lose this one. And not just in terms of adverse media reaction or the slide down the global rankings. It seems that, as Alastair Cook hinted on Wednesday, people may lose their jobs.

Most at risk would appear to be Trevor Bayliss. Despite having done the job he was employed to do - improve England's white-ball cricket and ensure a relaxed dressing-room - there is little evidence to suggest any players are improving in the team environment. Quite the opposite, actually: several have started well and fallen away. And while it seems there is little chance of his being asked to step down from the white-ball element of the role in which he has excelled, the possibility of the coaching job being split is very real. Gary Kirsten might be a viable candidate for the Test role.

Even with Andrew Strauss absent on compassionate leave, even with Andy Flower only back in an interim role and even if there is a risk that, one year away from the World Cup for which they have been planning for three years, a coaching change could destabilise the dressing room, there seems little way another loss could be tolerated. Questions are starting to be asked of those much higher up the organisation. This really is make or break for Bayliss.

The good news for the seasick sailors who make up England's batting order is that the pitch - which is straw-coloured - looks full of runs. As a result, the option of dropping Bess, the only specialist spinner in the squad, is likely to be resisted. The width of the square in Leeds - it stretches across almost the entire playing area - might also encourage the seamers of both sides in achieving some reverse swing. Tickets for the first couple of days have all but sold out (capacity is just under 13,000 due to redevelopment work at the ground) but there are still many available on days three (currently 8,500 have been sold) and four (3,300).

The other good news for England is that they remain, at full strength, a talented side which is capable of far better than they have achieved of late. They need to take their chances (their new fielding coach, Carl Hopkinson, has already earned the somewhat harsh nickname Carl Dropkinson after five catches went begging at Lord's) and their bowlers must utilise helpful conditions when they arise. As for their batsmen, they need to be a bit more greedy, a bit more demanding and a bit more patient. If all of those conditions are met, their results can improve, and improve quite quickly. It really is ridiculous that a batsman as good as Bairstow is averaging under 40 in Test cricket and that Joe Root has 10 half-centuries but no centuries in his last 10 Tests.

Either way, England's current predicament underlines how underappreciated the 2013 side were. It reminds us, too, that their style of play - routinely criticised for its lack of positivity at the time - had many virtues. Attitude and positivity aren't enough. Success at Test level also has to be earned through denial and determination and discipline. They might not be the most sexy of skills, but they still matter. The current side - all their coaches and some of the pundits who have urged England to be more positive for years - could do worse than reflect on that.