Ed Hawkins analyses an England Test team going nowhere and struggles to see how they will be value to win a series over the next 18 months...
"England had four problems to solve over the course of seven Tests. They needed to find an opener, two middle-order batsmen and a wicketkeeper. Only Jonny Bairstow’s guts and guile gave them one pass."
In the aftermath of England's 2-2 draw with Pakistan, few outside of the betting bubble will wonder exactly how short the hosts were to emerge triumphant. At just 1.434/9 they were a Bismarck, torpedoed and belly up with many a loser on board.
What a horrible wager they proved to be. It goes without saying really, but 1.434/9 chances just do not get beat in Test cricket and Pakistan's comeback was as stunning as it was trend reversing - for years touring sides have routinely been hammered away from home.
Most of the debate, of course, will focus on why England failed, rather than their odds to do otherwise. The soothsayers and the sages will point to a fragile top order. Indeed. We all knew that yet the majority chose to ignore it, otherwise England would have gone off much bigger.
This is where the disconnect appears between those who understand value and those who do not. If you recognised that England did not have an opening batsman to partner Alastair Cook, a No 4 or a No 5, against a potent bowling attack you should never have wagered on them. And yet many did in their droves.
The status quo remains and going forward one has to wonder when England will be value again in Test matches. Versus Bangladesh up next when they'll be as short again? Against India in the winter? West Indies in the new year? Or South Africa in the summer.
It depends on the odds, of course, but one can expect England to be around 5.59/2 to repeat their 2012 series win with India likely to be no better than 1.454/9. That might be our only chance to side with Cook's men for a while because it is certain they will be odds-on in the Caribbean - most likely too to beat South Africa at home.
The problem with England is that they are continually stuck trying to walk up a down escalator. They have been going nowhere for sometime because of a consistent failure in selection policy. It made a mockery of their quest to be the No 1 side in the world in this series and James Anderson's premature prediction before The Oval that "they could win from anywhere".
At the start of this summer we quoted Yogi Berra, the baseball legend. "Déjà vu again," he said. Reporting on England over the last few years has been a simple exercise, just re-use and repeat the script.
England had four problems to solve over the course of seven Tests. They needed to find an opener, two middle-order batsmen and a wicketkeeper. Only Jonny Bairstow's guts and guile gave them one pass.
As an end of term report it does not make for comfortable reading. Must try harder on the other three? Complacent in class? Or struggles to get to grips with the syllabus?
They have been trying for yonks to replace Andrew Strauss. Alex Hales is the eighth partner Cook has had since 2012. The captain will soon have a ninth considering Hales has been and out-and-out failure.
The Nottinghamshire man averaged a woeful 18 against Pakistan putting him 10th on England's list. The ultimate ignominy being Steve Finn two places ahead. In three series (21 innings) Hales has failed to score a century and his overall average of 27 will surely see him make way.
James Vince is another for the chop. No Test fifty in 11 attempts and an infuriating inability to curb his instinct for flashing outside off when well set damns him as one who doesn't have the temperament to survive.
Garry Balance will probably cling on. It would be a major departure for England to chuck out all three batting failures, even if Balance will be on his third and final chance. Not least because there are doubts over whether there are three batsmen in the county game who could come in.
Nick Browne, the Essex opener, is the latest to be linked to the poisoned chalice that is the No 2 slot, although his runs have come in the second division and a double century against the powderpuff Derbyshire attack last time out should fool no-one.
The top flight offers few clues as to how to fill the positions. Top runscorer Keaton Jennings (a 19-year-old South African), at Durham has not yet qualified while Haseeb Hameed (Lancashire) and Nick Gubbins (Middlesex) are ingenues. The next five out of six men on the list make for depressing reading: Marcus Trescothick, Alviro Petersen, Kumar Sangakkara, Jonathan Trott, Steve Davies.
While England search high and low - the selectors might even take in England under 19s v their Sri Lanka counterparts - one answer may be staring them in the face. Moeen Ali, the forgotten specialist batsman, is more than capable of batting at No 5 and once and for all ending this bizarre obsession with him at No 8.
That solves just one conundrum, however. Yet there will be greater challenges to come. If England are struggling now for players, what will they do when they lose James Anderson's artistry? That day is coming fast and when he does go, England will be an even worse bet at home. Still, they might have found a batsman by then.
Record of Cook's opening partners since 2012
N Compton 479 runs at 31.93
J Root 339 runs at 37.66
S Robson 336 runs at 30.54
MA Carberry 281 runs at 28.10
AD Hales 573 runs at 27.28
A Lyth 265 runs at 20.38
M Ali 84 runs at 14.00
I Trott 72 runs at 12.00