Just when you thought it might be safe for England to go back on the field, they crumbled again on Sunday. Two wins in three days would have been pushing it after such a wretched tour and they duly found another way to lose a match they should have won at a canter.
For three months, the tourists had shown all manner of ways to fold against rivals who had virtually forgotten what defeat was like and have no wish to be reacquainted with it. But the failure to chase down a target of 218 to win the fifth one-day international was a fresh twist on a familiar theme.
At most stages of the pursuit they were in control. The pitch was slow and did not yield runs lightly but it was a matter of rotating the strike and eschewing risk. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy, they must have been thinking in the dressing room.
But poor strokes from two batsmen who were firmly entrenched, Joe Root and Eoin Morgan, and a strangely benign innings from Ravi Bopara which ended controversially left them with too much to do. They fell five runs short, bowled out in the final over.
After the jubilation of the solitary victory in Perth on Friday it was akin to the resumption of the winter’s normal service. For Alastair Cook, the captain, it was a typically horrid end to a grotesque trip.
He will fly home today – leaving the Twenty20 specialists to play three matches as warm ups before the World Twenty20 in March – and has plenty to ponder. His wife, Alice, is due to give birth to the couple’s first child in March, the lambing season will soon be in full swing on the family farm and he must shortly discuss the way forward for England and several of their players, particularly Kevin Pietersen.
England will name their squad for the World T20 in Bangladesh sometime next week. If Pietersen is omitted, that will virtually mean the end of his career. If he makes the 15 it may mean that yet another extraordinary rapprochement has been affected (or it may be that they can put up with him in Bangladesh but not beyond).
There is much then for Cook to dwell on but as he said last night after England went down 4-1 in the one-day series to follow their 5-0 Ashes whitewash, it is time for him to put the pads away for a couple of weeks. He denied that he was exhausted by the events of the previous three months but if not, a few new lambs and a new baby will ensure that position is rectified.
The result of this series will be forgiven, not to mention forgotten, if and when England return to Australasia next year and mount a serious challenge for the World Cup. Nor is this beyond them.
They will have to adapt much more quickly than they managed here but then they will not also be trying to rid themselves of an Ashes hangover. To compensate for the loss there was abundant compensation in the form of Ben Stokes, Jos Butler and Chris Jordan.
In all sport, it is always delightful to watch the future unfold before your eyes. That is what has happened with this embryonic England team in the last few weeks.
Stokes has emerged as a player with a big-match temperament which is accompanied by a dash of flair and that unfathomable quality of making things happen. He took another three wickets yesterday to confirm his rapid progress as a fast bowler.
Buttler was among the culpable batsmen, pulling a long hop to deep but he has had a splendid series. England are worried about rushing him into affairs for which he is not ready. The selectors should instead find some of his boldness.
Few can have expected Jordan to make the impression he has in the past month. His selection was as much hunch as careful design but he bowls properly fast and has just enough movement to concern any batsmen. A little wobble is more probing than extravagant shifts.
The batting of Morgan should have been monitored closely. He made a poor error of judgement yesterday when he ought to have seen England home but throughout the bulk of the one-day series has been a model of maturity, calmness and skill. Should Pietersen really be unwanted for the future then Morgan may yet resume a Test career which has yet to fulfil its initial promise.
The middle batting cupboard is not as bare as it spin counterpart but at 28 Morgan may have his best years immediately ahead of him. It is to be hoped he may reach some sort of compromise about his participation in the Indian Premier League so he can make some early season Championship runs to press his case. After all, it is one thing saying how much playing Test cricket means to you and another demonstrating it.
The defeat yesterday was all that England ultimately deserved. They bowled well on an astonishingly sluggish surface and seized the initiative.
Gallery: How England rated in the One-Day International series
How England rated in the ODI series
How England rated in the ODI series
1/13 Alastair Cook 5/10
Short of runs but intent was ever present. Should obviously continue as captain so close to World Cup.
2/13 Ian Bell 7/10
Weary, jaded but kept going and still managed to look a million dollars occasionally. Big asset in World Cup.
3/13 Ben Stokes 8/10
Find of the winter for whom all things are possible. Probably not number three going forward but natural big game player.
4/13 Gary Ballance 5/10
Batsman it may be possible to play round but plenty to learn on how to pace an innings.
5/13 Eoin Morgan 8/10
Player at top of his game, confident, accomplished, classy. Test recall should not be ruled out.
6/13 Ravi Bopara 5/10
Did not make required runs despite some starts. His bowling is keeping him in the side and is important factor.
7/13 Jos Buttler 8/10
Vast array of formidable strokes allied to nerveless temperament makes him one of the most exciting prospects for years.
8/13 Tim Bresnan 6/10
Improved as series went on. Needed the bowling and still a significant part of England’s World Cup plans.
9/13 Stuart Broad 7/10
Looked slightly distant after two match rest but still one of the few to have shown his proper form on this tour.
10/13 Chris Jordan 7/10
Looked the part despite odd pumping run up. Has some wheels and does enough with the new ball to cause problems.
11/13 James Tredwell 5/10
Solid professional but struggling as off-spinner against aggressive batsmen and shows spinning dearth.
12/13 Joe Root 6/10
Tired after a long year but emerged in the last match to play a diligent innings which suggests he may be the man others can play around.
13/13 Boyd Rankin 3/10
Could not recapture the fizz he showed in late summer and may not have a long-term future with England.
Cook made his fourth score above 20 in the series but again failed to go on, prodding to cover. But the pairing of Morgan and Root for the fourth wicket seemed to put England in the clear.
Morgan drove loosely to mid-off, Root’s overhead lap went straight to short fine leg. Bopara was too becalmed, failing to find the gaps. He was unfortunate to be adjudged out stumped after the ball ricocheted off wicketekeeper Matthew Wade’s pads (another indifferent decision by Kumar Dharmasena as third umpire) but had left himself with much to do.
The end came with three balls remaining. England have one series left, of three T20s, to salvage something from the wreckage of the winter. Cook will be glad to have bailed out at last.
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