Cool and dependable, Gary Cahill emerges as England's rock

While the spotlight shone on one centre-back, the other was rather inconspicuous. Except for one moment, that is.

For better and worse, it looked the Phil Jones show. He almost scored with a thumping header. Switzerland nearly struck when he lost possession and Haris Seferovic was denied by Joe Hart. Jones' accident-prone brand of total commitment often results in injuries, and, long before he was removed, his hamstring was clearly troubling him.

Alongside him, meanwhile, Gary Cahill seemed the shy, retiring type paired with a publicity seeker. There are times when a good centre-back, like a fine referee, blends into the background. This seemed one.

Then Josip Drmic burst beyond the England back four -- it helped that the linesman allowed the substitute to start his run early. But the flag stayed down, and Drmic's shot defeated Hart. Switzerland seemed certain to equalise.

Or they did, until a sliding Cahill materialised on the goal line. Anticipation, positioning and powers of recovery are all essential parts of the central defender's armoury. This was an incident to illustrate he has all three. It may prove one of the pivotal moments of England's Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. What was, in theory, the toughest game in the group has now been negotiated.

Of course, the clean sheet also owed much to Hart, who made two vital stops to thwart Seferovic, and the win came courtesy of a brace from Danny Welbeck. His second goal stemmed from Cahill's injury-time interception, made with calm assurance while deep in his penalty area, and it felt fitting that he ended the game wearing the skipper's armband.

Some think that, as almost the only outfield player who is an automatic choice and neither a rookie nor in decline, he was the strongest candidate for the captaincy. Instead, it was granted to Wayne Rooney.

If Cahill is a new leader for a new age, it is partly because of dependable performances, but partly through a process of elimination. The last survivors of the golden generation have ended their international careers. While it is not long since Cahill was the youngest of a back four featuring Ashley Cole, Phil Jagielka and Glen Johnson, he was the most capped member of the quartet that started in Basel.

In at least one respect, however, this is evolution, not revolution. Cahill's central defensive partner still has the initials PJ and answers to the name Phil; the shift in surnames is from Jagielka to Jones and in ages from a 32-year-old to a 22-year-old.

Jones has proved to be Manchester United's best centre-back this season, though that is not the compliment it once would have been, considering the inept displays of some of the others. A first competitive international start in his preferred position showed he remains a work in progress. There were moments of carelessness that threatened to be costly. In comparison, Cahill caught the eye less often. He has prospered by making his errors rarities.

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Yet the notion he is a pure defender of the old school is a rewriting of personal history. A reputation for reliability is a relatively recent phenomena; the Cahill other clubs remember was an accomplished all-around footballer, capable of scoring an overhead kick in a Second City derby for Aston Villa or from 25 yards for Bolton.

Then, the questions were about his defending.

If he was first seen as a solid citizen by default, because he was contrasted with the eccentric David Luiz, he was rebranded as a bastion of defiance in Chelsea's improbable Champions League triumph in 2012. If we all acquire some more conservative traits with age, perhaps that is no bad thing for an attack-minded defender.

He traded up when he left Bolton for Chelsea, though. Once his usual sidekick was Zat Knight. Now it is John Terry. Now the junior partner is becoming the senior figure; first for England, with Jagielka's demotion, and surely, at some stage, for Chelsea. Terry exceeded expectations last season but is in the final year of his contract.

The Chelsea captain represents an epoch in which England managers were more blessed. With Johnson, Jagielka and Leighton Baines enduring more traumatic World Cups, Cahill was the least culpable of the back four in the defeats to Italy and Uruguay.

Their collective troubles brought juxtapositions with the recent past. There was an extended era of excellence from English centre-backs in which the standard was so high that Jamie Carragher was never a regular for his country in his preferred position. Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand, Terry and Carragher stepped off the conveyor belt before it ground to a halt.

After the feast, England are in a famine. It is the nature of the current team that players' positions are cemented by a lack of alternatives. More than most, Cahill has earned his, but the paucity of options makes him indispensable. If Jagielka is past his peak, others have not reached theirs.

John Stones is gifted but untried, Calum Chambers perhaps as able but, after two Premier League starts as a centre-back, still less experienced. Chris Smalling commands Roy Hodgson's trust, for reasons that are increasingly hard to comprehend. Steven Caulker was relegated with Cardiff last season and may suffer the same fate at QPR. Ryan Shawcross and Curtis Davies are on the outside, looking in.

They see Cahill at the front of the queue for places. England were relieved to see him, too, on the one occasion Hart was beaten.