For England, even after playing at the most northerly international ground in the world, the only way is up. The routine victory against Scotland in Aberdeen was merely an adroit exercise in the avoidance of banana skins.
Welcome it might have been, but nobody will recall it as anything other than the surmounting of the first obstacle on the long road to redemption and recovery. Had England somehow contrived to lose on Friday – and after the kind of winter they had managed, anything was possible – it would have only made the task more fraught.
The real business of the summer is now almost upon us. Sri Lanka arrived in the country as England were dealing with Scotland in unfeasibly wet conditions at Mannofield. Their first match is on Tuesday in Chelmsford, their first international, a wildly pointless one-off Twenty20, at The Oval a week later.
That T20 match aside, against a team who are the world champions let it not be forgotten, England should start as heavy favourites in their own conditions against Sri Lanka in May and June. Five one-day internationals, reasonably significant precursors to the World Cup next year, will precede two Test matches. India, later on, should provide a slightly more exacting task, but with similar observations about their ability away from the sub-continent. What is needed, nay yearned for, from England is a change in attitude as well as results.
The feeling from within the camp is that one may lead to another. The players seem prepared to take more responsibility for their own actions, something that recently had perhaps been allowed to drift out in the middle when it mattered. All eyes, then, will be on the returning new head coach, Peter Moores.
Always approachable, invariably enthusiastic, steeped in the game, Moores became bogged down in the technical paraphernalia of coaching in his first coming as England coach, which ended in tears early in 2009. It was as if occasionally he could not allow himself or his players to trust their instincts.
Things, Ian Bell seems sure, will be different this time. Bell was a junior international when Moores was first trying to earn his credentials at the highest level, but these days he is a gnarled old pro with a wonderful body of work behind him who retains his hunger and his passion.
“I’m sure he’s learnt a lot in the five years he’s been with Lancashire,” Bell said. “He’s a very good coach with lots of qualities and I’m sure he’s learnt from mistakes he’s made, I know he’s said that. It’s good that he’s got another opportunity.
“Now I think he’s got that experience of probably understanding international cricket a bit more. He’s a good man. Maybe he will go away a bit from looking at stats all the time and give a bit more responsibility to us. It’s important for us to make decisions. Looking back, you can’t blame the coaches for what happened in the winter. We should have taken responsibility and we didn’t do that and hopefully he will now give us the chance to make amends.”
As that demonstrated, England’s players are saying all the right things, but doing them is quite another. One win against Scotland in a 50- over match reduced to 20 does not amount to much, but it was clear from what Bell said that the training camp last week involved much more input from the players. Bell has no official position, but is in effect senior lieutenant to the captaincy of Alastair Cook. “The Ashes are not that far away so it would be nice to turn it round quickly, but having been involved in ’06-’07 I think it is possible to turn things round and I believe we can do it again,” he said.
“I’ve been involved in county cricket for the last month and there are some really good cricketers out there. It will be exciting for all cricket fans to watch this new team come together. Yes, it will take a little bit of time, but in English conditions I’d back us to beat anyone in the world.” Starting with Sri Lanka next week.