5 Lessons for England from Sri Lanka Series Before India Tests
England's new era under Alastair Cook and Peter Moores endured a painful start against Sri Lanka, losing the two-match series 1-0 as the visitors claimed their first Test series victory on English soil.
While the Tests, both at Lord's and Headingley, went down to the final over, England only have themselves to blame for the series defeat, given the strong positions that weren't seized upon during the pair of matches.
Worryingly for the hosts, India's impending campaign against Cook's men should present an even tougher challenge, particularly when one considers the greater depth inherent in MS Dhoni's squad.
So what did England learn from their humiliating loss to Sri Lanka? What were the valuable lessons gained ahead of the five-match showdown with India?
Five of those lessons are presented across the following slides.
Extreme Conservatism Doesn't Defeat Good Teams
Alastair Cook's conservatism has been widely criticised during England's torrid run of results dating to back to the 2013-14 Ashes series in Australia.
However, it felt as though a tipping point was reached during Sri Lanka's second innings at Headingley.
With the game in the balance as the visitors looked to set England a fourth-innings total to chase, Cook's puzzlingly defensive field settings and bowler rotations allowed Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath to steer the tourists to a lead that should never have been possible.
With reasons now mounting for his resignation, the England captain must acknowledge that his methods need to change, that Tests need to be wrestled away from the opposition, that the game's advantage doesn't simply come to your possession with ease.
If the same conservatism is used against India, a typically strong batting line-up will run the hosts ragged.
Matt Prior's Days Are Numbered
Matt Prior could have recorded a pair at Lord's, luckily escaping a review while on nought in either innings. Although he posted more than 100 combined runs in the first Test, that can't be forgotten.
Yet, it was Prior's wicket-keeping at Headingley that raised greater concerns, with the 32-year-old's displays on Day 3 and Day 4 during Sri Lanka's second innings highlighting the decline suffered by the Sussex stumper since the beginning of last year.
Most notable was a simple chance that was dropped to afford a life to Kumar Sangakkara, while Rangana Herath also enjoyed a reprieve from the wicket-keeper.
As George Dobell of ESPN Cricinfo colourfully put it, Prior "has looked unrecognisable from the keeper who proved so reliable up until the end of 2013 and, in this match, has flapped like a seal and dropped like a stone."
If England are intent on emphasising the new in this new era, Prior's days are running out should his form continue.
Home Conditions Aren't the Advantage They Once Were
Subcontinental teams have historically struggled to come to terms with English conditions on previous tours, with greener wickets, different balls and contrasting overhead conditions combining to typically disturb the game's Asian stars.
But that wasn't the case with Sri Lanka, as Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Angelo Mathews and Dhammika Prasad all appeared unfazed by the conditions on offer at Lord's and Headingley.
As was evident during the previous summer against Australia, Test pitches in England are tending toward being drier and slower, reducing the threat of seam bowling that has generally proved troublesome for teams like Sri Lanka.
Those traditional home advantages might be missing once more during the Tests against India, boosting the chances of victory for the tourists.
Fans Have Grown Tired of England's Approach
The crowd at Headingley—or lack thereof—told you all you needed to know about the public's perception of this England team under Alastair Cook.
Played in front of the most sparse stands seen during a Test in England in recent memory, the second match of the series in Leeds seemed to garner the attention that a local under-17 game might.
The reason for such an appalling turnout is simple: Fans of the game in England have grown tired of their national representatives, and have lost the connection that was once evident between themselves and the players.
Not only has the insular nature of this England team driven a wedge between the squad and their supporters, cricket's observers in Britain have been alienated by the methods and approach of the team under Cook.
Really, what is there to like about this England outfit? What endearing qualities does the team possess? Is there any entertainment on hand when Cook's men take to the field?
If England's new era is to be successful, the public must be on their side. For that to happen, a completely revamped approach needs to be devised.
The Recovery Process Will Be Slow
England were once the No. 1 ranked side in all three formats of the game, three-time Ashes victors, ICC World Twenty20 champions and winners in India.
Now they're losing series at home to Sri Lanka—a side ranked No. 6 in the ICC Test Rankings, a side not even close to the powerhouse status that England used to measure themselves by.
With a new coach, a beleaguered captain, a declining wicket-keeper, exhausted front-line bowlers and an inexperienced batting line-up, the recovery process will be slow for England.
Now only one place above their recent opponents in the Test rankings, it's painfully clear that this England outfit doesn't possess the quality or strength to compete with the game's best in its current incarnation.
A wave of new players will need to be cycled through, contrasting combinations will need to be experimented with, a new tactical approach is necessary and an ounce of luck might be required too.
That process will take time for England, which is likely to be evident throughout the summer against India.