The Last Word: Alastair Cook's Ashes team has devalued win over Australia

Playing with such joylessness demonstrates the team's indifference to their responsibilities

Some time today Alastair Cook will conspire in the pretence that he is cradling the terracotta Ashes urn presented to Ivo Bligh, his predecessor as England cricket captain, in 1882. Everyone will overlook the fact it is a cheap prop, one of three official replicas used on such ceremonial occasions.

The subterfuge, harmless and understandable, is uncomfortably symbolic for those who cherish the mystique of the original artefact, which is too fragile and precious to be moved from the Lord's museum. It takes a rare genius to devalue a comprehensive series win over Australia, but England have somehow managed it.

These have been the counterfeit Ashes. With the unforgettable exception of the Trent Bridge Test, the contests have lacked authenticity. The approach of the England management has been myopic and mean spirited. Cook's team have played in a vacuum of joylessness and indifference to their wider responsibilities.

Matt Prior's demand for respect, a dressing-room buzzword without meaning or merit, sums up their isolationism. It is the product of an overwrought, self-regarding culture which has manifested itself most ominously at The Kia Oval, where the attempt to kill the game degenerated into a parody of professionalism.

Should Prior wish to investigate the impact of genuine disrespect, he should examine the apologetic body language of Simon Kerrigan. The manner in which the debutant spinner was marginalised following the most vivid, debilitating attack of nerves seen in international sport for many years, was disrespectful bordering on disgraceful.

There has been much to admire about a regime whose tone is set by head coach Andy Flower. He is a man of immense integrity, whose ascetic methodology rarely factors in popularity. Yet such strength is a weakness because of the siege mentality it generates.

Stuart Broad deleted a series of late-night tweets on Friday, deriding those he felt were not "true fans", without erasing the suspicion that he, too, has an unhealthy sense of entitlement. The prissy response of the ECB to the admittedly crass comments of Darren Lehmann regarding the England all-rounder hints at a lack of proportionality.

By condemning "incitement" and pledging to take "all necessary steps" to ensure Broad's safety in the return Ashes series in Australia this winter, they provided unnecessary encouragement to louts and attention seekers.

It was excessive given the widespread condemnation the Australia coach had already received from his natural constituency.

The argument was won when Ian Chappell, whose approach to English cricket and cricketers resembles that of a dog to a lamppost, accused Lehmann of "hypocrisy". The coach will doubtlessly contemplate the perils of his informal, outspoken management style.

There is, though, an affecting humanity to his squad, best summed up by an incident involving ex-pat Australian Jason Donald and his eight-year-old son Alec before the start of play on the first day at the Oval.

Ed Cowan, the invisible man of the Australian tour party, noticed the boy being pushed to the back of a scrum of autograph seekers. He beckoned security men to allow him on to the field, and gave him his batting gloves. "Mate," he told him," we are three-nil down in England, so you deserve these."

England's players have similar instincts, but seem more guarded. That is surprising given Cook's grounded nature. Once the formalities are completed today he will doubtless pop into our village pub in his wellies to meet his mates from the Young Farmers' Club. He will finally be allowed to be himself.

He was distraught earlier this summer when a sheepdog he had reared, after chasing a stray sheep into the road, was knocked down and killed. That vignette is more representative of him than images of the poker-faced, slightly careworn figure who has led England back to second place in the international rankings.

Admirable, in a professional sense, but today will not feel like a victory parade. One word of warning, Alastair: keep winning.

Ear story sounds a warning to Bale

Gareth Bale was given a glimpse into his future in a fitting setting, Pinewood Film Studios, where he recorded his first major TV advertisement on the day the England squad left for their ill-starred 2010 World Cup campaign.

Bale was quiet, a little wide-eyed and intent on following advice to study the professionalism of his co-star Michael Owen. The prospect of him becoming the world's most expensive footballer seemed ridiculously remote, but there was something distinctive about him. He was measured in a manic world.

He will need such inner certainty in the coming days, when the reality of Real Madrid will consume him. Owen left few traces at the Bernabeu; Bale will launch a marketing offensive in Asia, and the Gulf.

His life will change irrevocably. This week's tittle-tattle about an operation to pin back his ears was a taste of things to come. The prominence given to what had been an open, inconsequential secret was telling. At 24 the Real opportunity has probably come a season too soon. But the chance, like the challenge, is unique. Will he recoil from its magnitude, or respond, like Cristiano Ronaldo?

Bale is easy to under-estimate, difficult to deny.

The real one

The Happy One has already morphed into the Disingenuous One. The Ethical One was merely a figment of Jose Mourinho's fertile imagination. His return to Old Trafford tomorrow will set the tone for the season. This might be a minority view, but I've a hunch David Moyes will prove to be The Authentic One

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

Hanging with the Hoff

Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

Hipsters of Arabia

Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

The cult of Roger Federer

What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

Malaysian munchies

With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
10 best festival beauty

Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

A Different League

Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

Steve Bunce on Boxing

Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf