The Ashes: An entertainment industry but a results business as England's cricketers come up short
At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
Yes, sport is about entertainment, it’s about trying new things, it’s about evolution, revolution, breaking the mould.
But, first and foremost, at professional level at least, it’s about winning, and the bottom line is that Australia head to the Oval 2-1 up with one Test to play, the Ashes safely retained and the best that England can hope for now a 2-2 draw.
Professional sport is an entertainment industry, and England have proved themselves the great entertainers under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum.
But it is also a results business, which is why players are paid an awful lot of money and why there are so many coaches, backroom staff, and so on.
Careers, legacies, are defined, above all for England and Australian players, by Ashes success.
It is why England’s cast of 2005 will forever be remembered, cherished and treasured for what they achieved in that halcyon summer.
This was no 2005, despite the nip-and-tuck nature of the first three games, although it could have developed into something comparable, even accounting for the contrasting absence of free-to-air television exposure.
It could not have eclipsed that summer, though, even if England had recovered from 2-0 down to become only the second side after Don Bradman’s class of 1936-37 to do so.
For what made 2005 so remarkable was the backstory as well as the actual plot, the years and years of Australian dominance, as Michael Vaughan’s men toppled not just a good team, as Pat Cummins’s Australia is today, but one of the greatest to have played the sport.
England won that year despite the fact that Shane Warne, the greatest bowler to have walked the earth, took 40 wickets at 19.92, an astonishing, force-of-nature display that was the acme of heroic failure.
But England had Kevin Pietersen, they had the four fast men of the apocalypse (Messrs Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard and Simon Jones) and, among others, they had Vaughan, a magnificent batsman and one of the greatest captains the game has seen.
No matter how well Australia played, no matter how hard they fought, no matter how magnificently Warne bowled, it was England who emerged with the coveted urn.
The disappointment this time is that England had their chances.
A compelling case could be made that they are the better team, certainly against an Australian side missing the injured spinner Nathan Lyon, a stroke of fortune upon which they were unable to capitalise, in addition to winning every toss to date.
England dominated the rain-ruined fourth Test in Manchester, which, had they won, would have made them clear favourites going to the Oval, following their excellent victory in the third Test at Headingley.
But wounds, self-inflicted, scuppered them in the first two Tests, at Edgbaston and Lord’s, and proved costly in the finish.
Perhaps, when the dust has settled, some time hence, England will admit that they got a bit too carried away, a bit too caught up in the idea of entertaining at all costs and trying to reinvent the wheel, for want of a better term.
For now, and no doubt understandably, they will point to an exceptional record going into the Ashes and the many wonderful and exciting moments that they produced along the way.
Nothing can, nor should, take that away from them.
Inevitably, in the aftermath of Manchester, there have been calls in some quarters for Test matches to have reserve days, for more flexibility with the playing conditions (couldn’t the chaps have skipped lunch at Old Trafford, for example, or carried on playing until 9.30pm, the cries have gone up).
All will have their views, although the need to improve over-rates is perhaps the most glaring; as ever, it is the paying customer who loses out, who is effectively taken for granted by the powers-that-be.
In an ideal world, there would indeed be more flexibility in the schedule, but it will not have escaped your notice that the abomination otherwise known as the Hundred starts next week, for which the Ashes was shoehorned into a few short weeks to give the Hundred a clear run.
One of the ironies of this Ashes – not quite 2005, but still extremely entertaining – is that so many youngsters would surely have been attracted to cricket had they been able to watch it live on free-to-air television, as some of the current England crop were able to do in 2005, when they caught the bug.
For whereas “Bazball”, on this occasion, failed to deliver, the Ashes most certainly has delivered, proving, for the umpteenth time, that there really is no substitute for high-quality Test cricket played without gimmicks, fanfare and superfluous guff.