The last one-day international of the season here in Leeds on Friday may mark the closure of another era in English cricket. Eras have been ending lately as routinely as episodes of The Archers.
A new, attacking, gung-ho style may be adopted in which power is all, Alastair Cook might step down as captain to concentrate, as implored by his so-called friend Graeme Swann, on the recapture of the Ashes. On the other hand, Cook may continue to lead and England may stick steadfastly to their strategy, praying to the gods of cricket for a favour (oh, and while they are about it, the Ashes).
In most ways, the fifth match of this series against India, which was thankfully already sold out, will have scant effect. A loss for England, which seems unavoidable given recent evidence, will hardly reduce the clarion calls. A win will do something for the feel-good factor but will not alter the fact that England have been completely outclassed. Cook and the tactics will stay.
Moeen Ali, one of the few successes for England in his only match so far, put it all down to loss of form. Since he is at the start of his international career he was hardly about to call the coaching staff a bunch of drongos, but Moeen did offer some advice for his colleagues, buttressed by his 67 from 50 balls in the embarrassing nine-wicket defeat at Edgbaston on Tuesday.
“It’s definitely being out of form, maybe the guys lack a little bit of confidence,” he said. “The plans are right, it’s all good, if we can execute as a team then we will definitely challenge India but at the minute with bat and ball we’re not doing it.”
But Moeen was savvy enough to recognise that England could and should learn from the fearless way India and all the other leading sides go about their one-day cricket. None waste much time in reconnaissance.
Moeen said: “We can learn a lot. Sitting on the sidelines for the first two games, watching the way Indians bat, you can learn a lot from the way they approach it, with no fear and just backing themselves. If there is a risk, they just take it. Sometimes it doesn’t come off but as a team if we can all do that and execute the plan then we will be fine.
“Watching someone like Suresh Raina in the first game, they were in trouble and he came out and played the way he played. He took a few risks and they came off. He backed himself. I tried to copy it a little a bit and played the way I play.”
Cook is undeniably under pressure again. He is a batsman scoring too few runs in charge of a team winning too few matches, which is a pretty poisonous combination. Outside the unlikely event that he or the selectors decide his course is run after this match, he will definitely take England to the World Cup next year.
Changing after the seven-match series in Sri Lanka in November and December, with only a brief triangular series in Australia to follow before the tournament, would be unthinkable. Moeen insisted there were no doubts about Cook.
“He is the captain and as a professional cricketer we all know that form does have a dip,” he said. “He has been the same since day one. I have never met a more mentally strong person than Alastair and to go through what he is doing and still be the same day in day out. I can imagine that it is very tough but I know he will come good.”
Ian Bell’s absence with a toe injury perhaps simplifies England’s selection of batsmen but does nothing to ease the general mess. Only around 320 runs will do that.