Today is the first anniversary of one of the greatest moments in English cricket history. It will be marked by soul-searching, hand-wringing and wondering what the heck to do next.
Many will recall the joyous events at The Oval on 22 August 2011 when India, after at last putting up some resistance, finally folded in a heap. They lost their last seven wickets for 21 runs and their status as the world's No 1 side to the team which had vanquished them, England.
It was not quite like winning the Ashes but it was up there because the Ashes were already home. England had won six consecutive Test series by dint of hard work, honest application and self-knowledge.
The batsmen could not stop scoring runs, the bowlers could not stop taking wickets and catches were being plucked from the sky like kisses on the wind. What larks, what larks. Since then it has all gone wrong. It could not have gone more wrong.
Six Test matches out of the subsequent 11 have been lost, as have two of the four series. They have embraced abject playing of spin bowling, continued unreliable batting in the summer, a lauded bowling attack being made to look pedestrian in the climactic series of the home summer and catching which could hardly have been worse if the culprits had been trying to avoid poisonous flying ants carrying razor-sharp flick knives.
Yet all that has been overshadowed by a split in a hitherto harmonious dressing room which shows no sign of being healed. The team's stellar performer, Kevin Pietersen, has ostracised himself to a point where he may never play internationally again.
The repercussions are as yet unknown because negotiations are still taking place. But they may extend for years. If Pietersen can redeem himself sufficiently to resurrect his career in time for the Test tour of India this autumn it will not be easy for him to walk into the dressing room as though nothing has happened.
There has been too much texting, tweeting and treachery for that. For Pietersen it can never be the same again and therefore he may never be the same player again.
But let us suppose that no accommodation can be reached, that the depth of Pietersen's calumny in messages to mates in South Africa's team means there can be no rapprochement between him and the England team. He will walk away to an uncertain, maverick future of Twenty20 tournaments (the Indian Premier League, the Australian Big Bash) and a loss of sponsors.
In that case, however, the rest of England's players, whoever they are, will always wonder if they should have done more. They will ask themselves if it was all down to Pietersen, what caused him to be texting opponents, albeit essentially compatriots, in the first place.
There appears to have been a shift in attitudes towards Pietersen. Never close to anybody else in the team since he made his debut for England in late 2004, he has frequently raised eyebrows in an "Oh, that's Kev, you know what he's like" kind of way.
Sometimes it has gone beyond that, and there was a moment on the tour of the West Indies in early 2009 when his apparent insistence on being granted special treatment caused ructions. This attitude has become more prevalent as Pietersen's demands became more self-centred.
It has been fairly clear that they were annoying the team's coach, Andy Flower. The dynamic in the dressing room shifted a little more and if that has no direct effect on performance the indirect influence is another matter.
In the past few weeks it became a sideshow, rather as Andrew Flintoff's knee injury was in the 2009 Ashes. He looked bigger than the team as well, which is always a bad sign.
The way England played at Lord's on Monday, when they pushed a superior South Africa most of the way, suggested that they did not want to surrender the series and the ICC ranking without a fight. There was another impulse driving them on – that they really could win without Pietersen.
A couple of former England captains have advocated the banging together of heads, the re-introduction of Pietersen and getting on with it. The likelihood is that it has gone too far.
If the parting of the ways arrives, however, England have to be clear that it will not automatically improve their batting, bowling and catching. It seems much more than a year has passed.Reuse content