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Ashes to ashes, but just how did England come to this?

It is hard to believe it is less than a year since England were cruising to victory in the Ashes series.

At the climax of that 3-0 success expectations were high that the England & Wales Cricket Board's finest would continue their upward push towards the No.1 berth in the ICC Test rankings, given the supposed clutch of bright new talents emerging throughout the counties.

Fast forward 11 months and the team find themselves rudderless, clueless and indulging in grisly post-mortems more fitting of Silent Witness than sporting contests.

Annihilated in Australia, demolished by the Dutch, shattered by the Sri Lankans and now embarrassed by India, whose victory at Lord's was their first away from home since 2011, England have gone from average to abysmal in a stunningly brief period.

Their latest reverse at the home of cricket was typical of their fall from grace: time after time they created opportunities only to spurn them, either by forgetting such basics as pitching the ball up or knowing which deliveries to leave. By the death, and despite India's best efforts to fling them crumbs of comfort, even such John Bull types as Ian Botham and David Lloyd were clutching at the air and howling at the moon.

Alastair Cook is a decent individual whose Test record, prior to him assuming the leadership duties, was exemplary. There was no reason to imagine, at least prior to the retirement, absence and ostracism of Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, that he would not be able to combine his various duties to positive effect.

Yet it appears he has never recovered from the pummelling he and his colleagues received at the hands of Mitchell Johnson on their less-than-magical trip to Oz. To some extent, he has been a victim of circumstances, considering that nobody could have envisaged so many leading players would either crash to earth or walk away with bruised egos so quickly.

The bottom line is that captains are judged on results and on how much they contribute to the cause, and the Essex man has been found wanting in both departments. You get the feeling that, if this Captain Cook had sailed off on HMS Endeavour, he would have finished in the Arctic Circle.

Neither is he the only lost soul. Ian Bell, a ruthless accumulator in 2013, has been scratching hopelessly for runs this year; Ben Stokes, once viewed as the new Botham, has forgotten what it feels like to reach double figures with the bat; Stuart Broad, another talisman in previous campaigns, has become a liability with the new ball on flat tracks; and Matt Prior might be worth retaining as the England wicketkeeper, but only if the options are Stevie Wonder or the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

They have no international-class spinner, and few signs of one emerging. But, above all, they have the demeanour of men who have no faith in one another or confidence in their abilities to transform adversity to their advantage. They couldn't even press home their good fortune after winning the toss on a green wicket last Thursday, when the ball was zipping about all over the place.

With an Ashes campaign next summer, options are thin on the ground. There have been encouraging signs from the likes of Joe Root, Gary Ballance and Sam Robson. There are also capable performers awaiting their turn in the guise of Chris Jordan and Jos Buttler, both of whom will expect to be in the squad for the Third Test. The series hasn't gone yet, and India's top order remains porous, so there is little value in culling the present England squad. But too many in their ranks are trading on past reputations, with Cook and Bell at the head of the queue.

It's time for a change; perhaps overdue for somebody such as James Anderson to take the helm. That is, if he isn't banned for his altercation with Ravindra Jadeja. In a sense, the fact England players keep becoming embroiled in these scrapes sums up their problems. It seems an awfully long time since they were taking the moral high ground while David Warner was Public Enemy No.1.

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