"Football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win." So said chucklesome crisp salesman, TV presenter and former goalhanger Gary Lineker, whose famous aphorism came to mind during England men's ongoing tour down under. The Ashes are a straightforward concept: several dozen players and support staff traipse around a country playing Test cricket for six weeks and at the end, England conduct a review on where it all went wrong.
That is certainly true for England's efforts in Australia, where they have worse survival prospects than a box of snow cones left out on the Nullarbor Plain. Never mind that Australia has a reputation for its deadly fauna, after another bleak trip on which the Ashes were decided in just 12 days of competition (less time than England spent in quarantine during the build-up), you wouldn't be surprised to tune in and find out that Jonny Bairstow had been ruled out of the final Test as a result of being savagely mauled by a quokka.
England arrived, as always, with high hopes of winning - or at least not embarrassing themselves, their countrymen and their forefathers (again). But then Rory Burns was bowled behind his legs while doing the polka to the very first ball of the series, and to be frank, it would have saved us all a lot of bother if the old Brian Lara Cricket "generate innings" option had been available for the rest.
It was a familiar crushing blow for fans following back home, and after England had performed so well in their warm-ups. By which we mean, lost three and drawn two out of six home Tests against New Zealand and India during the northern summer. Those two series were "perfect preparation" for the Ashes, in the words of Chris Silverwood, England's head coach, who is beginning to look like an example of the Peter principle in action (although, in fairness, his side certainly have become accustomed to being beaten).
"There are positives to come out of this," Silverwood added in the wake of England being bowled out for 68 on day three at the MCG, to barely concealed incredulity in most quarters. Although given he became the latest member of the touring party to be forced into isolation a few days later, maybe he was just referring to Covid-19 tests.
Then again, Australia have been dragging most Englishmen down to their respective levels of incompetence for some time now. Joe Root's stellar 2021 with the bat was made to look all the more impressive by how small England's pond has become - but the Australian attack provided a reminder that there's always a bigger fish. Root, who has an otherwise decent record as captain, has now lost more times in Australia than Novak Djokovic's immigration lawyer.
To add to the ignominy, Root's opposite number, Pat Cummins, has even started being nice to England. "It's been really tough for them," he said. "We are really thankful they are out here as part of the series." To which the Light Roller would reply: "Of course you are, Pat. The Poms weren't going to beat themselves sat on the sofa back home, were they?" On second thoughts, maybe don't answer that - just finish the job and we can allow the ritualistic bloodletting to commence.
While Englishness is destiny in the Ashes, across the Tasman Bangladesh didn't so much as buck a trend as briefly flip the whole space-time continuum on its coconut. Despite their justified reputation for travelling about as well as mango lassi, Mominul Haque's side played the perfect Test to beat New Zealand on their own patch - where they hadn't won so much as a game of tiddlywinks before. That is, No. 9-ranked Bangladesh, with five away Test wins in their history, casually knocking over the reigning world Test champions, unbeaten at home in five years. It didn't take long for the elastic band of reality to snap back hard, however - and you could tell which way things were going when Ebadot Hossein, the hero of Mount Maunganui, somehow saw an outside edge end up being dropped for seven. Bangladesh were beaten by an innings inside three days in Christchurch, and the universe settled back into its groove shortly after.
Virat Kohli has always - how shall we put this? - liked a bit of spice. An excuse to get riled up. The opportunity to gain the edge in a contest. But signs have begun to emerge on India's tour of South Africa that he needs a bigger and bigger dose to get by. Having already become embroiled in a ruck with his own board, following the selectors' decision to remove him from the ODI captaincy, Kohli finished the Test series by escalating a garden-variety DRS controversy into a head to head with the host broadcaster - and, by extension, the country of South Africa itself. Never mind the stump mics picking up sledging, now they're being used to give feedback. The worry, of course, is who Virat might end up targeting next, just to get the competitive juices flowing. Big Pharma? The United Nations? Greta Thunberg? Never mind who's in charge of the nuclear football, it's Kohli's buttons we need to be wary of pressing.