Sarah Sands: Swagger has been vanquished by duty and modesty

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The Independent Online

Dark, handsome, modest, talented, quintessentially English, the whole country mad about him. On the day that The King's Speech went on general release, Colin Firth was in danger of being eclipsed by the hero of the Ashes, Alastair Cook.

Those in searched of sporting role models rub their eyes in disbelief. A former choirboy! A farmer! A young man who says shyly of FHM pin-up girls such as Katy Perry: "The out-there stuff is not for me."

The success and likeable character of this crop of cricketers demands a cultural adjustment. How should politicians respond to a hopelessly middle-class game, awash with public school jokes and the self deprecation of the socially confident? The Ashes team looked like an embodiment of Thomas Arnold's teachings. Hard-working, unshowy, patriotic dutiful, graceful in victory.

This Prime Minister's affinity with cricket is effortless, though he may lack the erudition of John Major. Even Cameron's elaborate enthusiasm for darts does not temper his social ease with cricket. And Alastair Cook is nifty with darts too.

Political leaders have a spooky influence on the cultural climate. The Ashes have been retained, and the football World Cup lost on his watch. A royal wedding too is perfect for this government: Cameron can dust off the morning suit he dared not wear to his sister's wedding.

Of all British film hits to come out this year, wouldn't you say that The King's Speech is the most Cameronian? Nick Clegg may have lost his most attractive supporter, Colin Firth, but David Cameron has strengthened his friendship with the film's other star Helena Bonham Carter.

Everything about the Ashes was posh English. The innocent silliness of the sprinkler dance. The fact that the winning moments were lost on Radio 4, because the shipping forecast could not be delayed. The coincidence that the man of the match shares a name, with the Radio 4 institution, the late Alistair Cooke. And that Cook's girlfriend is called Alice. The conventional haircuts of the players. The lack of metrosexuality. As Cook says: "I brush my teeth and wash my face." He is no Ronaldo.

Even Cook's naked photo shoot in aid of charity with the team's other prettiest players, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, had a jocular sexlessness. If Shane Warne had posed nude, it would have been with a dangerous swagger. But there was nothing in the Ashes threesome with their fig-leaf cricket bats that would strike fear into a mother-in- law's heart.

We loved Freddie Flintoff for his boisterous Lancashire honesty and courage. Cook, like Colin Firth offers something different which is a quiet, thoughtful decency. He deflects all compliments: the cricket was a team effort, his fellow naked cricketers were better looking than him, his achievements are due to dedication rather than brilliance. He talks of the "grind of my game".

It is a stretch to compare a gifted and feted young cricketer with Colin Firth's George VI in The King's Speech. Yet the values are comparable. Both sweet-natured, decent Englishmen fulfilling their duty. Both understanding that it takes superhuman effort and discipline to prevail. These are virtues that should be hammered into every child in the country. But dare Cameron praise cricket over football? That would really change Britain.

Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the 'London Evening Standard'