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Let's not beat around the bush here - English cricket has gone through an absolutely shocking period. Since Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell so nearly made it a 4-0 Ashes triumph at the Oval in September, things have gone from bad to worse for Alastair Cook and his boys. A 5-0 demolition back in Australia against the oldest enemy and horrendous one-day defeats against the same opposition; final-wicket partnerships and English collapses snatching defeat from the jaws of certain victories. The coach that got us to No. 1 in the world resigned, our best batsman was sacked, our most resilient batsman retired ill and our best bowler - one of the best spinners in the game - retired injured.
Add to that an embarrassing defeat, nay capitulation, to the Dutch in the World T20 and a first-ever home series loss to Sri Lanka, the latter when we had a 100+ run lead after the first innings of the decider, and it is plain to see the headlines to England's current problems. When looking at in that context, it is easy to see why Giles Clarke was asked if English cricket was currently at its lowest ebb.
Even the most mild-mannered of cricket followers are asking serious questions of Cook's captaincy and the ECB's decision makers. Indeed, at close of play on Day 4 of the Headingley Test, with England a pitiful 57 for 5 against an average Sri Lankan bowling attack, chasing an impossible 350 for victory, there was not a soul who did not think Alistair Cook was under severe pressure and in a position that was swiftly edging towards untenable.
However something happened. Cook rallied his troops and the lower order, showing the mental toughness and resolve that had so often deserted them recently, put in an almighty effort to nearly save the Test match. The fact that they ultimately ended up losing off the penultimate ball of the game probably helped generate a feeling of sympathy rather than hate towards Cook and his team - Jimmy Anderson in tears during his post-match interview exemplified this. It showed even the most seasoned of professionals in this side care deeply about their cricket - something that resonates with fans like nothing else. 'They' share our emotion.
The bottom-line is still that England lost an entire home series to Sri Lanka for the first time ever. This is hot on the back of the Ashes and World T20 debacle, yet it doesn't quite feel like New Zealand in 1999 or the many Ashes defeats from 1989 onwards - the fighting spirit and positivity of that fifth day in Leeds is just one of few bright spots for England since the end of a truly awful winter.
This is a side in transition, senior players have retired, rested or been sacked and since that Sydney Test, we have had six debutants and one returnee from international wilderness. Within those matches we have seen England beat the eventual T20 champions, the best ever ODI innings by an Englishman (a wicketkeeper at that), Test hundreds for three of the new players, a resurgent Liam Plunkett bowling with pace and accuracy, a Test hat-trick for Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson swinging the new ball at Lord's more than he has done since Trent Bridge last summer and the return to form of Joe Root with a double-hundred.
Yes it has been disappointing, yes at times senior bowlers have let us down, Cook's captaincy has been conservative at best, match-losing at worst, and the captain's form is nothing short of abysmal. Wisden, in years to come, will show we have gone eight Tests without a win but there is something there, enough of a silver lining trying to break through this juggernaut of a cloud to make you feel this is far from England's lowest ebb. Without wanting to bow to the soundbyte of an ECB bigwig, this IS a transitional period for English cricket and while I do not personally think Cook and Moores have the required skills to be the best in the world at their respective roles, there are currently not many alternatives that scream out they are any better in the English game.
Once you take the raw emotion and anger of a supporter out of it and look beyond the results, there are enough positives, enough fantastic individual performances since Sydney for us to be able to look forward with more than the slightest bit of optimism for the future. Cook undoubtedly needs to get his form back and the new ball bowlers need to find their consistency as attack leaders. Monty Panesar needs to sort his head out or another frontline spinner needs to step up to the plate but if all these things come together, along with the development of England's young lions, then next summer's Ashes may not be quite so dire.
England's last day fight and Jimmy's emotion showed, ironically, that if you take the raw emotion of being a supporter out of it, this England side is still hungry, still determined, still behind the captain 100% and still not far from being a very good cricket team.
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Paul J Kemp is a 30-something father, partner, Sheffielder and loyal cricket fan. Yorkshire and England through and through, yet exiled in leafy Derbyshire. A bit like Michael Vaughan - though his captaincy skills and cover drives aren't as good. He blogs here.
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