A battered Blackberry isn’t quite TMS but it still does the job for ardent cricket followers
Two England teams in transition, both on the receiving end of hard lessons. At least the cricketers showed a bit of fight.
As the end neared at Headingly on Tuesday I sat on a crowded train, my finger hovering over the refresh button on my mobile, awaiting nervously the outcome of every ball. The horrible denouement left me feeling utterly sick. Jimmy Anderson's tears at least showed how much it mattered. If Harry Redknapp is to be believed, that is in stark contrast to the attitude of some footballers.
The length of a test match means it is rarely possible for fans to watch every minute of a match. Snippets of radio commentary, highlights packages and furtively watched overs on the office telly are a feature of the cricket follower's life. Oddly, desperate efforts to refresh the BBC text commentary on a slightly ropey Blackberry are reassuringly in keeping with that experience. And as a method of keeping up to date it is, if frustrating, no less exciting - or sickening - than any other.
England may be in transition but where are they going?
It is hard to make any firm judgements on this new look set-up after two matches. All of the fresh faces contributed significantly at one time or another. Yet none of the XI could be said to have had a faultless series. The fact that Anderson was named man of the series after bowling generally so poorly in the Sri Lankan second innings in Leeds speaks volumes.
The lack of consistent quality might to some degree be put down to the grim experiences of the winter and the team's general inexperience. Yet it might not be unreasonable to expect more from the old heads at least. Cook, Bell, Anderson, Prior and Broad should be setting the tone in every session.
Sri Lanka played superbly well. The elder statesmen Sangakkara and Jayawardene are irreplaceable but in Angelo Matthews, there is a leader in place who looks like he will get the best out of his team-mates. England might be in a period of transition too but they are not assisted by the feeling that it isn't exactly clear what they want to become.
Cook’s a figurehead; but should he be captain?
On the question of leadership, it was inevitable that Alastair Cook's position as captain would be called into question. No wins in eight tests - and six losses - is bad enough. Cook's failure to score runs makes things ten times more desperate. In 24 test innings since the beginning of the homes Ashes series last summer, Cook has got out of the 20s only seven times.
The paradox in all this is that if Cook were not captain, his batting form would lead to questions over his place in the side. Yet if he wasn't skippering the side, might he not be scoring a heck of a lot more runs? For all that he clearly wants to do the top job, captaincy appears - from afar - to be a burden for Cook. His relatively pointless scrap with Shane Warne over recent comments seemed emblematic of a man who isn't sure which battles to fight.
Cook ought to be England's figurehead: and when his batting is on song, he undoubtedly is. He may also, for all we armchair pundits know, be a captivating force in the dressing-room. But he doesn't convince at press conferences, perhaps because he is too much the product of ECB-inspired media training. And he appears less than forceful on the field of play.
It doesn’t seem likely that Cook will be pushed, not least because there is no obvious replacement as captain. But with the team already in flux, it might be better to look for a new hand on the tiller now than create a further period of instability six months down the line.
The queue to be the next Flintoff is reassuringly long
There may be a dearth of spinning options for England at the moment. But remember the decades when we awaited a new Botham? And the five years of looking for a new Flintoff? All of a sudden, English all-rounders are ten a penny in the county game. While Chris Jordan was showing some flair with the bat against Sri Lanka - if not quite falling into the true all-rounder category - Ben Stokes was taking wickets by the bucket-load against Sussex.
Over in Lancashire, Tom Smith has taken 40 wickets at less than 20 apiece and scored more runs than any of his teammates bar Ashwell Prince. Peter Trego might be getting on a bit as far as England are concerned but his all-round performances for Somerset have been crucial to keeping them in contention for the County Championship. As for Will Gidman at Gloucestershire, quite how it is that he barely ever gets a mention when it comes to test selection must be something of a mystery.
Moeen Ali has surely done enough to retain the number six slot for the time being. But there is queue of all-round alternatives waiting in line behind him - some of them more patiently than others.