On Tuesday, beneath a purple south-coast sky, England completed the demolition of Sri Lanka's cricketers. While England were brilliant with bat, ball and in the field, Sri Lanka were poor: a judgement that can apply to many of the days of battle between these two countries during the past two months. There is a sadness in saying that. Sri Lankans have hidden behind "transition", a word that serves to highlight the impossible task of replacing great cricketers who have moved on to other fields and commentary boxes. It has been a wonderful ride, top and tailed by the twin departures of first Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva, then of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, and exaggerated by Muttiah Muralitharan's stellar career. But the ride is over and the mighty bump at its end is hurting like hell.
Touring England in the early months of "summer" is a devilish business. Many are the strokemakers from the subcontinent to have perished at the hands of refreshed and voracious English swingers and seamers of the ball. Sending Angelo Mathews' team to Leeds and Durham first up bordered on cruelty. Not that his team was as embryonic as perceived. Most were on the successful trip two years ago, but Mahela, Kumar and Tillakaratne Dilshan were with them to lean upon. Now that the pillars of the pre-transition days have gone, the immediate future of Sri Lankan cricket is a worry. A tighter and stronger first-class playing structure is urgently needed, along with calmer and more consistent governance. Like Barbados, Sri Lanka is a small island with a big heart and, seemingly, an unconditional affection for cricket. It would be wise not to push that unconditional affection too far.
The score in the three series of matches was 20-4. Reasonably, you do not know what the heck that means. Suffice to say that in an attempt to heighten interest, the ECB introduced a points system for all the matches in the three formats - four for a Test match win and two for a white-ball win. So England smashed it, but then we do know that. Oddly, there was no prize. Come to think of it, neither was there an announcement of the triumph or even any form of acknowledgment. Caesar stopped Rome for his victories. It will be interesting to see if the idea is pursued or pushed quietly aside.
Cricket needs context but then most of us know that too. Wade eight pages into the bowels of the Times' sports section - a paper that genuinely cares for cricket - and you will find a seven-paragraph report on Tuesday night's match but no picture. Deemed more important than England's T20 cricket fortunes are European Championship football - a tournament from which England were unceremoniously dumped by Iceland but in which Wales caused a stir; Wimbledon, which still has Andy Murray involved, and of course, the Williams sisters on a charge; lots of Jose Mourinho and Manchester United; and a little of Mark Cavendish in the Tour de France. On the front pages in these turbulent times, and destined to stay for a while yet, are Brexit and Boris, Theresa and Jeremy and all who sail in and around their political aspirations. Alastair Cook made the front page on May 31st for a personal aspiration of his own, his 10,000th Test match run, but that was cricket's sole jump from one end of the paper to the other since Carlos Brathwaite shattered the English dreamers in the last over of the World T20 final back at the beginning of April.
The point is that in the midst of summer, cricket is marginalised. Even diehards struggle to remember where the Sri Lankan games were played and what happened. Cricket must be very careful. Its hat is thrown in the T20 ring but only one T20 match was played between the sides. Five 50-over matches - the format of the game, apparently, that is on the bones of its bum - and one T20. Why? Three, three and three must be the way forward, with just enough of a gap between each to allow the marketeers their moment. And there must be a reason for it all, a tally towards something bigger and brighter that gathers momentum, reaches a crescendo and crowns a champion. I am playing an old record but we cannot expect the game to chug along in its present vacuum: the danger signs are clear and present.
"Cricket must be very careful. Its hat is thrown in the T20 ring but only one T20 match was played between the sides. Five 50-over matches - the format of the game, apparently, that is on the bones of its bum - and one T20. Why?"
What have we learnt about England? Enough to encourage but little about which to become complacent. There are good young players, impressive determination, and an exciting athleticism in the county cricketers of the day. Very few appear fazed by their exposure to the big time - witness Liam Dawson and Tymal Mills on Tuesday - and most, if not all, are strongly driven by the possibility of England colours. The limitations of the county game, it seems, have kept expectation in check.
There appears to be favour for the multi-dimensional cricketer, and for a kinder face. The fear so evident in the eyes of England's footballers on the dreadful night they were humiliated by Iceland is nowhere to be seen on the faces of the cricketers. Rather there are signs of the clear thinking that empowered the rugby players to win so well in Australia, and of the modesty that has long prevailed in that fine sport.
This is a good period for the English game, indicated by fine leadership, strong management and uncomplicated coaching. Subtly, there has been a destructuring of general affairs that has allowed the players freedom of thought and expression. It is less than three years since an unnamed England player said: "It can feel as if there is no escape, as if everything you do is being assessed and analysed and stored away. If you are not careful, it can wear you down. It is incredibly difficult to come to terms with." Much, if not all, of that pressured team environment has been stripped way. The emphasis of the moment is on enjoyment and stability, the consequence of which is a dressing room of smiles.
Having said that, Pakistan have the ability to wipe away smiles. At Lord's next Thursday, a true test of England's progress will begin in a Test series that is hard to call. There are four Test matches, the seemingly obligatory five one-day games, and a T20 - all against feisty opponents who boast a fine and varied bowling attack to make good the unpredictable nature of batsmen whose minds and feet move in the shadows of the wind. If England's cricketers are still unbeaten after September 7th, the curtain call will reflect a magnificent performance rather than simply a job well done.