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Match Analysis

Lack of leaders a hurdle to England revival

In a batting order containing four or five relatively inexperienced cricketers, it is not obvious who in the dressing room can revitalise England

If you were the sort of driver who kept colliding with bollards, the sort of sailor who kept hitting rocks and the sort of pilot who kept crash landing, you might conclude, eventually, that you are not very good at driving, sailing or flying.
A similar conclusion might be sinking into the seasick sailors of English cricket. Beaten like a snare drum, by Australia, Sri Lanka and Netherlands among others, the England team would be better served acknowledging their failings than hiding behind poor fortune. Only fools and losers continually bemoan luck as the cause of their failings.
Yes, at least one England player was the victim of an umpiring error. But so was at least one India player. And Murali Vijay looked in better form than Matt Prior. And yes, a ball change at the end of the 54th over did appear to precipitate England's collapse, though a mildly reverse-swinging ball at this pace should hardly have caused this level of bother.
Instead, England should reflect that, if they play across straight deliveries (Alastair Cook), if they poke at wide deliveries (Ian Bell), if they lose balance at the crease (Gary Ballance), if they play back when they should be forward (Sam Robson), they are not the victims of bad luck. They are guilty of poor batting.
This is hardly the first batting collapse they have experienced in recent times. Indeed, the 6 for 68 they suffered here on a slow pitch and against a modest attack, compares well against the 5 for 18 they suffered in the previous Test at Headingley, the 5 for 23 and 4 for 8 they suffered in Sydney, the 6 for 53 and 5 for 6 they suffered in Melbourne, the 6 for 24 in Adelaide, the 8 for 54 and 7 for 49 in Brisbane or the 6 for 37 here last year. If something keeps happening it is not an aberration; it is a problem.
They might also reflect on what sort of surfaces they do like. Because, in recent times, they have struggled on pitches offering spin, struggled on pitches offering bounce, struggled on pitches where the balls skids, struggled on pitches where the balls swings and struggled on pitches like this where the ball does very little of anything. Until Test cricket is played on ice, they are going to have to learn to manage a bit better on at least some of those surfaces.
The sight of James Anderson reverse-sweeping boundaries and Stuart Broad driving on the up through the covers just underlined how poorly England's middle-order played. There is nothing to fear in this slow, low surface and, decently though India bowled in the circumstances, little to fear against an attack that, by the standards of Test cricket, remains modest. Batting at this level will rarely be this comfortable and this England side contains a record nine men with Test centuries to their name.
One of England's enduring problems is that the majority of their players do just enough to justify their continued selection. But "just enough" does not win Tests and England require more from Bell and Co if they are to end their current malaise. Nobody doubts Bell's ability and his place is, quite rightly, secure. But, five Test innings into the new era, he is averaging 32.40 and struggling to provide the leadership and inspiration his side requires.
It may be that leadership and inspiration are the key missing ingredients in this England side. For as this malaise continues - and, barring a miracle, they will have extended their winless run to nine Tests by Sunday night - so the belief is draining from this England team. With Anderson and Broad seemingly resigned to endless spells on dead wickets, Cook and Prior currently struggling to lead from example and a batting order containing four or five relatively inexperienced cricketers, it is not obvious who in the dressing room can lead the revival.
English cricket is bursting with men who never offend, or shock or rock the boat. Men who have paid their dues and do not disrupt the dressing rooms or committee rooms to which they serve. Men who will disappear without leaving much of a trace.
But sometimes you need characters who ruffle and question and offend. Sometimes you need characters who have the arrogance and aggression to change what appears an inevitable course. Sometimes you need the sort of player a mild-mannered former England captain might describe as "an absolute c***".
There may be knock-on effects to England's shortened innings. By forcing Anderson and Co into the field once again so soon after their draining first innings efforts, they sustain a vicious circle that could compromise England's efforts throughout the series. Still jaded by their first innings efforts, they are likely to be less effective - the harsh might say even less effective - the second time around. And with only three days between Tests, they may still be feeling the effects by the time the match at Lord's starts.
It was the same story in Australia. Though England fairly often claimed the first four or five wickets relatively cheaply, Australia invariably recovered through Brad Haddin as Anderson and Broad tired. Until the batsmen support the bowlers better, it will continue to happen.
In normal circumstances, England should still be able to hang on for a draw. The pitch will hardly deteriorate; it will just become ever more funereal in pace. And, had it not been for the Indian tenth-wicket stand, England would already have a lead. Even more pertinently, MS Dhoni may have a tricky decision to make regarding a declaration.
But normal circumstances no longer apply. England's batting collapses have occurred too often to retain even a hint of complacency.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo