The dramatic final day at Eden Park on Monday was a fantastic advert for Test cricket but England have to be honest enough to accept something is not right even though they saved their skins against New Zealand with a bulldog spirit.
Since reaching the top of the Test world rankings in 2011 they have been below par. They have won five out of 18 Tests. The team have been bowled out for less than 300 on 12 occasions. That is not good enough for a top seven with all but Joe Root averaging more than 40.
They have the ingredients to be a high-quality team for a long period but inconsistency is holding them back and they are sensitive to criticism.
If only they could bottle up the spirit and determination they showed to save the final Test in New Zealand and when answering their critics by overturning a 1-0 deficit and winning in India.
In this era South Africa are the benchmark. They are winning series all over the world and are a long way ahead. In my time it was about trying to catch Australia. Winning the Ashes means a lot to English players, fans and the media. But Australia are fourth in the world. England’s aim is to be No 1. To do that they have to play better cricket than South Africa and somehow match them consistently, which requires a stronger mentality.
England are good at raising their game for the big stage, which is why I do not worry about the Ashes. England will thrive in front of the big crowds, and feed off the buzz and energy around the series. But winning a low-key series away in New Zealand playing at tiny grounds in front of small crowds is harder. You have to be strong mentally.
It started in Dunedin and spread through the whole series. They were criticised and did not like it. As captain I always said you have to look in the mirror.
The only guy who gives you an honest answer is the person looking back at you. Will these England players do the same? Can they answer if they have given it everything mentally as well as physically before the final day of the series as if it were an Ashes?
If the answer is yes then fair enough, they have had an off series. But if the answer is no then there are serious questions to answer. Only the individual can provide those.
All fingers point to the captain, Alastair Cook, but I do not pin all the blame on him. His captaincy is in its infancy. Everything went well in India but has gone wrong here. As a young batsman Cook worked out his deficiencies and improved. He has to do the same as captain. As a skipper you need to go back to your room every night and ask: “What do I need to do better?” Write the answers down if necessary.
I was lucky to play against Steve Waugh and watched him operate. I captained against Stephen Fleming and learned from him, too. I picked up ideas that helped me to understand different situations: when to go on the defensive or attack, when to send a psychological message to the opposition by setting an aggressive field.
I hope Cook has watched Brendon McCullum and stored it all up so he does things differently next time. As a captain you cannot keep repeating mistakes. People start asking questions pretty quickly.
England’s thinking in the field was schoolboyish at times. McCullum has been the complete opposite. He has known when to attack and used the right bowlers at the right times. One small example from this match. Stuart Broad hits a six and four but McCullum puts a man on the drive rather than spread the field. Next ball, Broad is caught driving.
In contrast, England’s thought patterns have been a real concern. In Wellington with New Zealand 90 for five B J Watling nicked a ball through vacant third slip. We had two slips, a gully and an extra cover saving runs. Watling and McCullum added a hundred. Opportunity missed.
Also in Wellington, we did not have a bat-pad man for Monty Panesar bowling into the rough, another chance popped up and was missed.
In Auckland on the second morning with James Anderson bowling nicely, we only had two slips and a third man (to save runs) against Ross Taylor who is a nervous starter. England have a theory of restricting teams to 2.6 an over, squeeze the run rate with a ring field and induce errors.
That works in India and other parts of the world where cricket is attritional. But here we needed to be aggressive. It happened on the third night of this Test. With their backs to the wall, 239 runs behind, England had to attack.
What did they do? They had four slips, a gully and intimidated batsmen with length balls. The result? New Zealand eight for three. It was the kind of aggression we needed more often, not just in a hopeless situation. But the following morning we reverted back.
At 30 for three two slips and a packed on-side for Peter Fulton. In that situation, fill the slip cordon and bowl aggressively on fourth stump. That was how they dismissed Fulton both times in Wellington.
It is not all the captain’s fault. Anderson and Stuart Broad are experienced bowlers, set their own fields and are as much to blame as the captain. It takes honesty to admit making errors, but doing so helps you to move forward quickly.