England recorded a much-needed win yesterday in the third one-day international of the series in Sri Lanka.
Joe Root (48 not out) and Jos Buttler (55 not out) put on a brisk 84-run partnership to carry the tourists to a five-wicket victory with eight balls to spare, after another mid-order wobble.
England's eighth win in the past 23 ODIs against Test-playing sides means the Sri Lankans lead 2-1 in the seven-match series.
This victory was crucial for England. Had they failed to get over the line again, and gone 3-0 down, there would have been no signs of improvement heading to the World Cup next February and wholesale changes would surely have been forced.
The majority of criticism would have been directed at Alastair Cook. His negative captaincy fails to inspire and the opener has made only one half-century in his last 19 one-day international innings.
But yesterday's 34 from 42 balls may have given him a stay of execution. Two crisp drives off Angelo Matthews in particular hinted that Cook's form could be returning as he ably supported Moeen Ali's exhilarating stroke-play in an opening partnership of 84.
Yet Cook doesn't intimidate bowlers. If Ali is dismissed early, you feel that England's hope of a bright start to the innings is also diminished. For this reason, Cook needs to bat through the innings and play the anchor role - much like Jonathan Trott used to do so successfully. Too often the 29-year-old has failed to do this in recent times.
And with the England captain facing a ban for Sunday's game because of a slow over rate, the plot thickens.
Alex Hales will be promoted to open with Ali, with James Taylor likely to come in at three. If England get off to a fantastic start - these two opening batsmen won't be playing too many defensive strokes - and Taylor impresses, then how can captain Cook be recalled? Root showed a great calmness in his innings yesterday, Buttler played a typically enterprising knock and Bopara has also scored runs on this tour. They have other strings to their bows too so are undroppable.
Cook's lifeline may come in the form of Eoin Morgan, who is suffering similar woes with the bat. Seen in recent times as England's premier one-day batsman, the Irishman looks hopelessly devoid of confidence. Another soft dismissal to compound yesterday's middle-order collapse fuelled the calls for him to be sacrificed for Taylor.
Sunday's match, therefore, could be a shoot-out to decide which of England's experienced batters will be given the hook. Morgan will be given the captaincy and with it the opportunity to showcase a more dynamic team, with more inventive and attacking field placings or tactics. If the selectors see how England can play a different brand of #Cricket, and like it, Cook's critics may finally get their wish.
In truth, England's bowling performance yesterday wasn't too bad. Steven Finn and Chris Woakes took early wickets in damp Hambantota conditions which suited their attack better than Colombo. Chris Jordan and Ali backed them up well but failed to put pressure on the Sri Lankan batsmen.
This was largely down to defensive captaincy. Instead of keeping a slip fielder in and denying singles, Cook let Kumar Sangakkara, Matthews and Lahiru Thirimanne to play themselves in and still score at a decent rate without taking chances. Hence when Cook tried to get overs from Bopara, Ben Stokes and Root near the end of the 35-over innings, carnage ensued as their combined seven overs went for 73 runs thanks to superb hitting from Thirimanne and Dhammika Prasad.
Cook clearly lost track of how many overs his specialist bowlers had got through. He also clearly has little trust in Stokes as the Durham all-rounder has bowled just four overs in two games on this tour. To be fair, Stokes has struggled to find a line and length and I expect him to be replaced by James Tredwell for Sunday's match in the spin-friendly conditions of Colombo.
This was without doubt a much-improved performance by England and, more importantly, resulted in a victory. On the whole, the bowling attack looked more threatening (admittedly in fairer conditions) on a pitch that resembled one which they might be asked to play on in Australia next year. There were positives in the batting too; Ali showed what a class cricketer he can be, Cook displayed signs of improvement and Root and Buttler's partnership proved that England can chase down a target with little panic.
However, this is a small step forward on the way to becoming a competitive side at the World Cup in a few months time. Sunday's game could provide us with more answers and force the selector into making a tough decision. Then again, we could just be left with a greater frustration and more questions.
The joys of being a follower of English cricket...