Moeen Ali Helps Cook's England Salvage Pride but Not the Series

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Moeen Ali Helps Cook's England Salvage Pride but Not the Series
Rui Vieira/Associated Press

The challenge facing England required a Herculean effort, with no team in history successfully batting out an entire final day when starting five wickets down.

In the end, what England dished up would have made Hercules proud, but it was not enough to salvage a draw or the series.

Sri Lanka achieved a dramatic victory with the penultimate ball, in contrast to the first Test when England thought they had done just that before DRS intervened. This was their first series win in England, and despite the home side's rearguard, few would argue they did not merit it.

England fans would struggle to recall a more depressing day for their team than day four at Headingleyalthough this would rely on most fans having scratched the entire winter Ashes drubbing from their memory.

Day five then at least gave England supporters a sense that the players were hurting as much as the fans and, in marked contrast to the capitulation on day four, were straining every sinew to reverse the drift towards defeat.

Moeen Ali played an innings of remarkable poise to rank alongside the classic obduracy of Mike Atherton in Johannesburg in 1995, Paul Collingwood in Cardiff in 2009 and Matt Prior in Auckland last year, albeit without the euphoria they all experienced at the end. He was hugely unfortunate to watch on helplessly from the other end as Anderson's dismissal rendered it in vain.

Joe Root and Chris Jordan in particular provided good support to Moeen in lengthy partnerships, while Stuart Broad and James Anderson emerged with credit having blocked out 79 balls between them without scoring a single run.

The lion's share of that was Anderson, who lasted 55 deliveries, the second highest number of balls ever faced for a duck. He was finally snared by a vicious delivery from Shaminda Eranga that he could only fend into the grateful hands of Rangana Herath.

Anderson looked crestfallen and close to tears, and while the Test match and the series were gone, some pride was restored after Monday's horror show.

The level of fight that was so disappointingly absent earlier in the Test was encouraging, and coach Peter Moores admitted as much in his post match interview, stating "We played with spirit and fight today, which is how we want to play all the time - I'm not sure we've played like that all of the Test." 

Moores has always been a man to accentuate the positives and if he can instill this spirit in the side for five days of a Test, things should start looking up.

Indeed, Andy Flower's largely successful regime also started with an ignominious 1-0 series defeat in the West Indies in 2009 including the humiliating 51 all out in Kingston, and they went on to win the Ashes that year to show that fortunes can quickly turn.

In truth, this Testthe eighth England had played without a victory since the halcyon days of hoisting the Ashes in Durham last summershowed that plenty of work lies in store for England to rebuild a winning unit.

The 2009 series in the West Indies was where Flower and Andrew Strauss forged their era-definining coach-captain partnership, but Alastair Cook looks to be on anything but the cusp of a bright new period of success.

The most significant problem for Moores is that his captain is in the worst form of his Test career, averaging just 25.04 since the start of last summer's Ashes with no centuries. This has heaped huge pressure on Cook, not helped by his prickly reaction to criticism from Shane Warne before this Test. In this context, plotting the way forward for his England team becomes inevitably more fraught a process.

The bright side for Mooresin addition to the steely grit and determination showed by the middle and lower order that will be required in spades against Indiais the progress made by the team's newcomers.

Most obviously in the wake of England's fifth day near-miracle, the announcement of Moeen as a Test batsman of great temperament and no little talent was significant, and while he has some way to go before doubters will believe England's premier spinner can be found in the batting ranks, he bowled his best spell yet to take crucial top order wickets on day three that England failed to capitalise on.

Assured centuries also came from the bats of Gary Ballance in the second innings at Lord's and Sam Robson at Headingley, and while Bell showed signs of reverting to his pre-2013 Ashes type with a pair of classy first innings 50s without kicking on, his obvious class remains.

Rui Vieira/Associated Press

In the bowling department, Chris Jordan did well at Lord's and made contributions with the bat and in the slips where his safe (though not flawless) catching is a welcome addition following the departures in recent years of Paul Collingwood, Strauss, and Graeme Swann.

 

 

Liam Plunkett demonstrated his value on his home ground with 5-64 in the first innings. He bowled with enough accuracy and menace to suggest he could be the enforcer that England have been looking for ever since Stuart Broad abandoned that plan in favour of good old fashioned wicket-taking line and length.

Plunkett's brainless dismissal in the final over of day four batting as nightwatchman, however, reflected poorly on his character and typified England's dreadful batting as much as Moeen personified the fight apparent on Day 5.

In some respects, missing out on the draw England came so close to securing may help them to more honestly assess and address the problems that are clearly apparent.

Pride is well and good, but the huge disparity between the performances with the ball on Day 5 at Lord's and Day 4 at Headingley should not be allowed to happen, and the spirit demonstrated on the final day just makes the spineless performance on Day 4 that much harder to take.

The individual performances have generally not been that bad, with all bar Alastair Cook able to point to one display across the two-match series as evidence of what they are capable of. But the team look rudderless and are not functioning as a unit, and this is ultimately where Peter Moores can make a difference.

If Moores can harness the talent that is so clearly there and get the players performing more consistently and backing each other up rather than looking to one star performer per innings with bat or ball, as has too often been the case lately, better performances may lie in store.

On top of this, if Alastair Cook can regain the form everyone knows he is capable of and lead from the front, in the way Angelo Mathews did so majestically at Headingley, the summer might not be all doom and gloom for England.

 

 

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