Maybe it was the cold. Maybe it was fatigue. Maybe it was the melancholic gloom. Or maybe people wanted to watch The Fried Chicken Shop on Channel Four at 9pm.
Whatever it was, not long into England’s innings today with the match still alive, spectators began to leave the Ageas Bowl.
Two hours later in front of rows and rows of empty plastic seats with frost bite beginning to freeze James Tredwell’s hands to his bat, the match ended.
Australia was victorious by 49 runs. And as the few remaining fans trudged out past the half-eaten hot dogs and semi-completed beer snakes rarely has the denouement of the international summer seemed so lugubrious and final.
Victory in the series for England was always going to be challenging, considering the squad selected, and Australia’s desire to leave having achieved at lest something of note.
For England, this series, shrouded by grey skies and ultimately ending in defeat, has largely served its purpose as a fact-finding mission and a chance to rest key players.
The biggest positive was probably Boyd Rankin, who made his ODI debut in the victory over Ireland at Malhide and showed himself to be a bowler of enormous potential, not to mention someone that could conceivably team up with James Anderson and Stuart Broad in the World Cup in 2015.
For Rankin a place on this winter's Ashes tour likely beckons.
Jos Buttler also displayed much greater maturity than in series gone-by, and his match-winning innings in Cardiff had many pundits purring with admiration. What’s more his four catches and a stumping in today’s match saw suggestions circulate that he might be in with a chance of traveling to Australia as the reserve Test wicket-keeper.
Further encouragement was offered by Ben Stokes, whose role as the third seamer formed the crux of the debate surrounding the balance of England’s side.
Not only did he fulfill that role, he exceed it, taking five wickets today at the Ageas Bowl and impressing throughout the series with his pace and potency. And, although batting at eight afforded him precious little opportunity to show-case his ability, he still managed to impress on the few occasions he got the chance to do so.
Eoin Morgan’s return to form, as well as his intuitive captaincy, and Ravi Bopara’s continued resurgence were further bonuses.
Taking a more sardonic view, this series also saw what will most probably be the end of Michael Carberry’s England career.
Although he was unlucky to be run out cheaply in Birmingham, he couldn’t replicate the free-scoring fluency he so regularly displays for Hampshire in his other innings, and at 33 years of age and with a plethora of options at the top of the order lurking, he may well have played his final international match.
More pertinently the struggles of Jonathan Trott and James Tredwell will be of concern to England.
While Trott’s poor form can somewhat be explained by a long season on the road, the way he was roughed up by some short Mitchell Johnson bowling in Manchester will cause alarm ahead of a winter on traditionally quick Australian pitches.
Greater worries may well circulate around Tredwell, who, after a poor season for Kent, was targeted by Australia. With suspicion surrounding Graeme Swann’s immediate future, it is becoming increasingly important that a young spinner, perhaps Danny Briggs, is given a chance in the 50-over side.
Questions also still remain over the role of Kevin Pietersen in the team, who despite being a certain starter has never appeared to find a suitable position in the order in ODI cricket.
Perhaps in the not-so-distant future solace may arrive if Trott, struggling not just in ODIs, but Tests, too, calls time on his limited overs career to prolong his five-day one, freeing up the number three slot.
Such speculation is futile with over 500 days until the World Cup and plenty of time for many players to ride what Pietersen himself sagaciously calls “the cycle of cricket.”
The role of this series is perhaps best explained by the experiences of the Chris Jordan and Jamie Overton, who played just one match between them, but will have gained invaluable contact time with David Saker and most probably received objectives and aims from Ashley Giles.
Just being on the road with the squad can be motivating in itself and England’s management will hope all the younger players involved will head back to their counties with added impetus.
As fans traipsed out past the Gourmet Burgers van and the long-closed club shop, past the security men willing their final shift of the summer to end and through the turnstiles, they probably won’t have thought much of today’s match, nor in the immediate sense should they have done so.
But in an era of non-stop cricket the only solution to cycles of growth and recession is good succession-planning, and ultimately for England, good succession planning is what this series was all about.
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