The Bloke: Ashes to ashes

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I’m still struggling to come to terms with the full, horrifying scale of England’s descent from a 3-0 series win in the summer to a 5-0 humiliation in the space of just four months.

Whatever you say about our nation’s cricketers, when they’re bad they plumb depths no other sporting outfit in the world is capable of. As one pundit noted, the performance in the fifth Test at Sydney, in particular, hinted at a kind of spiritual ruin.

I turned on the TV shortly before midnight through faint hopes that Australia might take their foot off the pedal or Alastair Cook’s increasingly unruly rabble surprise us.

(That and the fact that I’d stumped up for a subscription to Sky Sports in the naive anticipation that we were in for a gripping series).

The first thing I noticed (it was hard not to) was the score – England were 17-4.

But the strange thing was that I kept watching. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the mayhem unfolding before me.

As I watched, a strange sense of shame began burning away inside. By the time the fifth wicket had gone down I realised what it was – it felt like I was rubber-necking at the scene of a road crash.

England weren’t just bad, they were so helplessly appalling that it brought a sense of the spectacular to proceedings.

As if the whitewash of 2006/7 wasn’t nightmarish enough, it was almost as if this England team wanted to go one better; to lose even more outrageously while notching up new and exciting ways for the wheels to fall off.

A star batsman going home with depression? Check. The leading spin bowler deciding to retire midway through the series? Check. The ability to lose several wickets in the time it takes viewers at home to make a cup of tea? Check.

We’ve been here before of course. England have developed a knack over the years of losing dismally to Australia, but this time they somehow conspired to make it feel even more soul-crushing in its misery.

It’s the hope that kills you. England had won the past three Ashes series and four of the past five for Pete’s sake. How on earth could they manage to cock things up so royally in such a short space of time?

It’s hard to think quite how any England team are going to live up (or should that be down?) to this. Surely such levels of calamity will never be surpassed. The bar has simply been set too high.

All we can do now is to sit and wait until June 14 and England’s opening game of the football World Cup to find out if Roy’s boys can give them a run for their money. My bet is they probably can.

@TheBlokeYEP

Alexandra Shulman. PIC: PA

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