It's the question on everyone's lips. Or, more pertinently, how can England play so badly only weeks after stuffing India out of sight on a tour where the world champions failed to register one victory?
All of the old excuses have been trotted out. England can't play spin. England don't know how to bowl on the sub-continent. England bat too slowly in India. England throw their wickets away. And to an extent, England have lost their first two games by falling into those very easy to pigeon-hole stereotypes.
But, that's just what they are. Stereotypes. Just because England teams of 3 years, or 30 years ago couldn't play spin or bowl tightly on the subcontinent doesn't mean that every England player to ever pull on the three lions is doomed to fail in India. England are currently producing some of the most technically correct players in generations, which doesn't indicate weaknesses against spin. Any problems England are having, as Alastair Cook touched upon in his post-match interview after the second ODI are confined to the mind. England can't win in India, because they don't believe they can win in India.
Without wanting to go into any psycho-babble, England do appear to have a mental block about playing fifty over cricket. How else can a team that currently dominate two of the three formats seem so far away in the third? How else can players like Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell, who seem so at ease when in whites appear so out of their depths when in the colours? KP and Bell have come off unbelievable summers in test cricket and could arguably be regarded as the two finest batsmen in the world, yet put them into a fifty over match and they freeze. Pietersen hasn't made an ODI century in three years, Bell in four. Pietersen's place is under threat and Bell can't even get into this England team. How else can this be explained other than a general English mental block to playing ODI cricket?
Yes, there clearly has been a marked improvement in English ODI fortunes. Following the seminal away victory against South Africa in 2009, the Andys Flower and Strauss (and latterly Cook) have turned around English thinking about fifty over cricket, come up with winning strategies and won quite a few series. Since that South African tour, England have lost only one head-to-head series, and that was at the back end of a generation-defining and exhausting Ashes win. Yes, rain did help, but this team have just finished a home summer where they beat both of the World Cup finalists, one of them to nil. So somewhere along the line England are doing something right.
The key, as was said earlier, is in the mind. Other than the 6-1 humiliation to Australia back in 2009, England have won every home ODI series under Andy Flower. West Indies, Australia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India have all perished. It's no surprise. England feel far more comfortable when at home with green pitches where the swing bowlers can exploit the friendly home surfaces. Just as England have a mental block about playing on the sub-continent, it seems that teams are travelling over to us and having mental blocks about playing on a cold, wet, windy night at Durham.
Two heavy defeats doesn't make this England team a bad one, just as three rain-affected wins over India doesn't make them a great one. Until England master their sub-continental yips, England fans are just going to have to accept that their brave boys are very good at home, but not as good when away. Beating all of those teams at home shows they are a good side, but being humbled by the world champions in their back yard just goes to show how far England have to go before they can really consider themselves ODI contenders.