England captain Alastair Cook blamed a top-order collapse for his side meekly handing New Zealand a 199-run victory in the second Investec Test at Headingley.
The hosts began the final day needing an improbable world-record run chase of 455 for victory but, despite the optimistic words of Joe Root the previous evening, were all out for 255 as the series finished in a 1-1 draw.
Cook (56) and Jos Buttler (73) provided the only resistance on a forgettable day for England, who began the day on 44 without loss but slipped to 62 for four early on.
“I still think we could’ve batted out today,” said Cook, who reached exactly 9,000 Test runs with his innings.
“We knew the first session was crucial, that’s where a lot of the wickets have fallen up here and in this series, because of the new ball. To lose four wickets pretty early on made it fairly clear that we weren’t going to go for it.”
The margin of defeat was particularly galling for Cook as England had several opportunities to put themselves in the ascendancy.
England were 177 for nought in their first innings but could only make parity with New Zealand’s 350 all out and some poor bowling and slip fielding contributed towards the Black Caps taking the game out of their hands.
“Certainly consistency we’ve struggled with a little bit over the last year or so,” said Cook.
“We’ve played some really good Test cricket in patches and in other patches, not so good. To win a Test series or a Test match, those crucial moments you need to win or you need to take those opportunities.
“When you get in that habit of real seasoned pros winning games, people stand up at certain times to do it. We’re just probably lacking a little bit of that.”
With a crucial Ashes series looming, the current form of Gary Ballance and Ian Bell is becoming an increasing concern, with both continuing their lean run on Monday with single-figure scores.
While Cook acknowledged the pair, having been left out of the one-day international series squad, must work hard over the forthcoming weeks in county cricket, he knows from his own experience that they can overcome their recent lows before the first Test against Australia gets under way on July 8.
“Clearly they haven’t scored the runs that they would have liked to have done, that’s the black and white of it and they’ve got five weeks away to go away and find a bit of form in county cricket,” said Cook.
“Cricket’s a strange old game. They are fantastic players, there is no doubt about that and both their records suggest that, so there’ll be a concern because they haven’t scored the runs but it wasn’t so long ago I was really struggling. Form comes and goes.
“They have got a lot of work to do but two games in isolation doesn’t make you a bad player.”
Likewise, Moeen Ali has been struggling with the ball, but Cook had words of encouragement for his spinner, who took 19 wickets at 23 against India last year.
“He hasn’t bowled as well as he bowled last summer, certainly that India series, so he’s got some work to do to get that consistency back. He was just inconsistent,” added Cook.
“What I do like about him, he does spin the ball hard, he gets a lot of revs on it, so if he can get that control back like he had against India we know he can be a threat.”
It was a memorable day for New Zealand, who claimed a first Test win in England since 1999 and have earned plenty of admirers for their aggressive style of play.
Skipper Brendon McCullum had previously lost his last three Test series on these shores and admitted he would savour the previously elusive victory.
“I think it ranks right up there (with his career highlights),” he said.
“I’ve been here a few times and had no success.
“So it’s nice to be a part of a team which is able to get a Test win in English conditions.
“It’s a tough place to tour, England. It asks different questions of you.
“This team has achieved some pretty special things over the last little while. But this is certainly one we’ll look back on in years to come and say we were able to grab the opportunity when it arose.”