Andrew Tong: The time to apply the mouthwash is before the whitewash

The small-screen verdict
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The Independent Online

The heroes of England were humiliated, just like in the old days. The Aussies muttered a few choice words in their ears, and their Pommie counterparts had no answers - and that was just in the commentary box. Those gnarled old pros were always rather useful when it came to sledging. By the end, even Ian Botham was taking shelter in the Sky Sports box to get away from the Channel 9 commentators (who are also providing the BBC's feed). And this is the man who once chased Ian Chappell around a car park.

Ian Healy, once sledger-in-chief, had the indecency to ask who England's tail-enders would be for the World Cup. David Lloyd could only reply: "The same." As a tough chance went down in the deep off Adam Gilchrist's flashing blade, English pundits applauded a noble effort to catch it. But Chappell, once the hardest of players, said: "Knowing it's Gilchrist, you know you've got to catch that somehow." And you knew he was right.

In the Sky Sports studio was Stuart Law, one of the all-time great Australian sledgers. He calls it "repartee". "Certain players you target with a bit of verbal, engage them in conversation," he said. And some players, like Shane Warne, you do not. Next thing you know, he's hitting sixes and abusing Paul Collingwood about the MBE he received for scoring his seven runs at The Oval in the final Test of the last Ashes series.

"What are they doing sledging when they're facing a whitewash?" asked an incredulous Bob Willis. "I'd be keeping mighty quiet." That would be one comfort in our hour of need.

With the use of technology still a major issue, one interesting development would be for the stump microphones to be turned up so we can hear this brutal banter. Anything to drown out the commentators. One of the most unedifying aspects of the whitewash has been the willingness of ex-players, especially ex-captains, to heap criticism upon a beleaguered England camp, especially since they know how extremely difficult it is to win in Australia.

Similarly, there is a marked difference between the players in the way they address their media commitments. It is not just due to their success that the Aussies come across as generous and accommodating, it is because they are trained to fulfil that onerous task as well as the cricketing ones.

Ricky Ponting may have looked uncomfortably like George Bush as he took the victory podium but he was intelligent, articulate and gracious. Contrast the Australian captain with Stephen Harmison when he was interviewed by Mike Atherton in Sydney: "Are you disappointed you haven't taken the new ball since the First Test?" "No, not really." "So are you disappointed you're going home?" "No." "What are you going to do to get yourself ready for the summer?" "I don't know."

It's not just the fact that England are not very good at handling themselves in the public eye, whether they are whooping it up or drowning their sorrows. More worryingly, Barmy Harmy gave the impression that he didn't really know what he was doing on the cricket field either.

Andrew Flintoff had already been applying the whitewash for most of the tour. Whenever he was interviewed, he spoke of the great spirit in the camp. White spirit would be best - not for drinking purposes in a skid-row version of the triumphant scenes in Trafalgar Square in 2005, but to wipe away the memories and stop people painting over the cracks.

So it was ironic that Mark Butcher should be belting out David Bowie's "Heroes" with Sarah Brightman on Wednesday night's reality show Just the Two of Us (BBC1). More appropriate was the next night's number, "Leaving on a Jet Plane". Perhaps Peter, Paul and Mary should be on the England selection panel.

Atherton laid the blame at society's door by focusing on the hangover of Trafalgar Square and the fact that Monty Panesar and Alastair Cook are writing autobiographies after only a handful of Tests. He called it a "cultural difference". Are they developing "culture" in Australia all of a sudden? And at the same time as our own culture is going down the dunny? Soon there will be nothing left to sledge the Aussies about.

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