James Lawton: So what were they playing at in the Ashes?

The truth is, you get the respect you deserve, on or off the field

Astonishing, no doubt. Stirring, without question. But before Tony Blair's appointments secretary starts to arrange another reception at Downing Street for England cricketers who have beaten, fair and square, the world's best team, let's first ask a rather important question.

What on earth, gentlemen, were you doing for the previous three months or so? Of course it's rhetorical. We know precisely what you were engaged in. It was one of the most shocking failures of professional application in the history of the nation's sport.

When the rain drove the players off the field at Sydney Cricket Ground for the last time yesterday, and confirmed a thoroughly deserved 2-0 English triumph, there were two ways to react and, after the understandable euphoria accompanying one of the greatest upsets of recent years, we can only hope that, from Freddie Flintoff down, the right one is made.

It is to savour the exquisite sight of an SCG empty of all but celebrating England fans and then get on with the business of treating victory and defeat with equal weight ... equal cause for a renewal of ambition and determination to step beyond the achievements, or the failures, of the past.

The other course is the one which was followed, with such predictable consequences, after the glory of Ashes triumph in the unforgettable summer of 2005.

It was unforgettable, though, only in the sense that it explained the exciting potential of a young England team to establish itself as the most formidable force in the game. It wasn't something to be dwelt on in an open-ended orgy of celebration and personal publicity.

That is old ground, now, but it is maybe worth re-visiting, however briefly, in the wake of this triumph.

Some do not need such a psychological detour and, more than anyone, this is true, yet again, of the magnificently dedicated Paul Collingwood. Once again he fought to his limits, steadying England's batting with a knock of 70 and then claiming two wickets as the Aussies were kept under the heel.

The pace bowler Liam Plunkett most impressively followed in his path in a team performance that was beyond the dreams of England supporters when the slaughter in the Ashes series was followed so seamlessly by abject defeats at the start of what was beginning to seem like an eternal exploration of one team's mastery of another in all aspects of the game.

The worry is that the boom-bust cycle of English sports will once again emerge. Long after the Ashes were decided, some England cricketers were still in denial. They were hurt by criticism and believed it excessive and in this they mirrored the escapism of England's footballers after their equally appalling attempts to make an impact on the World Cup in Germany.

Frank Lampard, who had been lauded all the way to Germany after a year in which he had brilliantly led Chelsea to another title, complained that his and his team-mates' past achievements warranted more "respect." Lampard is better acquainted now with the basic truth of any competition. It is that you get the respect you deserve - on and off the field.

One of the reasons England won in Sydney, and entitled themselves to leave with some rescued pride a country which had learnt to treat them with a terrible scorn, was that finally they had reminded Ricky Ponting and his team that they were indeed capable of making a fight of it, that what happened in England a year and a half ago was not a freak of nature but something built on passion and authentic talent.

For this England do indeed deserve congratulations, for the performance of a Collingwood and a Flintoff and a Plunkett when the pressure came one last time, and for the whole team's renovated spirit.

Inevitably, the position of the coach Duncan Fletcher has been secured as the team go into the World Cup - and maybe beyond. But does that invalidate the criticism that came to him when Monty Panesar was left out of the early Ashes action, when Geraint Jones was allowed to run down his Test career so abjectly, and England underperformed so grotesquely? And does anything that happened in Sydney deflect from the basic fact that the Ashes tour remains an unmitigated disaster?

No, it doesn't. What it says, mostly, is that England's cricketers were not as hopeless as they portrayed themselves for so long. What has happened now is that they have re-created a standard for themselves and this, you have to say, is the main reason for celebration today.

Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Davidson performs his comedy show at Edinburgh Festival 2014
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor