Well, with the Adelaide debacle, England have got what they want from the Ashes – in fact, what they want from any sporting competition – a chance for nationwide self-analysis and deep self-loathing.

Clive James once noted that the Wimbledon commentators were capable of getting as excited about commentating on the rain as on the actual tennis. Today it’s the emotional weather which gets all the attention.

Martians watching would think that the strange activity with bat, ball and fielders was just a perfunctory ritual, a curtain-opener for the main event of picking over national failure at length.

The Guardian has England’s “Ten Steps to Despair” like a sort of stations-of-the-cross, and have guest sledger Gideon Haigh on hand to do to any remaining sense of national selfhood what S & M mistress Cynthia Payne’s girls once did to the buttocks of the establishment.

The Telegraph’s main essay amounted to saying “we’re crap” in 2000 words. In the Daily Mail, Andrew Flintoff’s quotes sounded like an agoraphobic trying to talk themselves into getting to the end of the path.

And the Mirror’s headlines, “Dust to bust, ashes to crashes” and “Warne out and bamboozled, our hopes are in ruins” read like late-period Samuel Beckett.

Trouble is, it’s all true. England’s mad combination of celebrity excess and post-imperial decline is all concentrated into sport. Lazy footballers and neurotic cricketers. Like scapegoats they’re taking it all on for the nation as a whole, probably saving a fortune in therapy on the NHS.

Peter Fray

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