Alastair Cook challenges England to end their final-Test blues

They have won the series against Sri Lanka at a sprint, wrapped up after barely more than six days of playing time, and should not come unstuck at Lord's even though the Sri Lankans have been boosted by their improvement in the second innings at Chester-le-Street. And yet, in their last five series - against West Indies, New Zealand, Australia, Pakistan and South Africa - England have been defeated in their final outing.

In Barbados and at Headingley last year, their lapses cost them series victories. In Sharjah, the chance to level the scoreline slipped away. On the other two occasions, against Australia and South Africa, the major prize had already been secured so it merely knocked gloss off the end product - although both defeats at The Oval and Centurion were comprehensive enough to raise questions about how far the team's development had come.

Of all the problems to have, and on the list of things Alastair Cook has had to deal with as England captain, it is not the most worrisome. However, this England side are searching for that No. 1 ranking. This summer has been billed as a chance to win all seven Tests - as they did in 2004 - although Pakistan's stronger attack could well have something to say about that.

"We've certainly mentioned that in the past, the dead rubbers we've not played as well," Cook said. "We've got another opportunity here. Who knows what the wicket will produce - the last [few] games here against Sri Lanka have been draws. So the wicket might not allow it. But we've got to make sure that if we want to get to where we want to, which is to be the best side in the world, these are the games we need to play better in."

Alongside the collective ambitions of the team, there are continuing personal subplots to the game, especially for the two men playing on their home ground. Nick Compton is under more immediate pressure than Steven Finn if he wants to continue his role at No. 3 when the Pakistan series starts, but for the longer-term future of English cricket it is the performances of Finn that warrants more attention.

In South Africa it appeared things had all clicked for Finn as he strung together a run of three consistent Test performances. Then injury struck, keeping him sidelined, much to his frustration, until the start of the English season. Since his return, that rhythm and threat from the South Africa tour has been difficult to rekindle.

Cook is not overly concerned, however, adding that he had first-hand experience of a lively Finn spell in the nets on Wednesday which left him with "a big bruise" on his leg.

"Steven, when's he absolutely on song, is I believe up there in our three best seamers in the country," Cook said. "We saw that last summer against Australia in particular, when he bowled fantastically well. This winter, when he played, he was absolutely outstanding. It's not always perfect.

"Take James Anderson as a bit of an example. He struggled a little bit, by his own admission, in South Africa, and when he came back he's bowled as well as he has done in his career. It's never perfect. We don't get 11 guys at the top of their game at the same time. But Steven has the ability to take wickets. He's always done that. When he clicks, he's a very hard bowler to face. He's got a big future in the England side."

For Cook, this Test match will allow him to settle back into life without the burden of approaching landmarks after he ticked off the 10,000-run milestone in Durham, although now the talk has shifted to whether he can finish above Sachin Tendulkar's 15,921 at the top of the pile.

"That's a long way ahead," Cook said, with the air of a man who would prefer to put the record books back on the shelf for a while. Since Durham, he has spent a week at home on his farm which included a day getting drenched in the rain helping to weigh "some fat lambs".

"At the moment a lot of my goals are immediate ones with this England team - as a captain that takes me away from the milestones as a batsman."

There is no escaping the fact, however, that in spite of Cook's record, James Anderson's excellence and England's dashing lower order, this has been a low-key Test series. Although Lord's will be close to full this week, that prevailing mood is unlikely to change much even if England do secure their first whitewash in a series longer than two Tests since beating India 4-0 in 2011. The Euros start on Friday, with England playing their first match on Saturday, and win or lose the footballers will dominate the sports pages.