(the braying mob watching England v. Australia Sunday afternoon, would-be William Ligues, every last one of them)

In a plea for decorum so stirring it puts Phil Mushnick to shame, the Independent’s Peter Roebuck suggests there’s an distasteful side to England’s increasingly likely Ashes victory.

Something ugly happened at the Oval yesterday, something so alarming that any surviving member of the liberal intelligentsia ought to take note of it. Not content with bombing civilians in a foolish war, not content with passing fatuous laws directed at admittedly infantile members of an immigrant community, not content with tolerating Alastair Campbell, this once mighty country reduced itself to the pitiful state of orchestrated nationalism.

No sooner had the umpires ludicrously and pathetically taken the players from the field for bad light despite the fact that two spinners were bowling, than some bright spark decided that what the crowd needed was a chance to join some shrill chanteuse in a recitation of “Land of Hope and Glory” and that stirring ditty, “Jerusalem”. Words were provided on the big screen in case some poor soul had forgotten them.

Before long the crowd, or at any rate those not cringing with embarrassment, was in full voice. Conduct appropriate in the more relaxed environment of The Last Night of the Proms had been transported to an international arena. A team had been invited to play a series of matches only to be subjected to this abject and crass self-glorification. They had come from a country that has fought side by side with its host in four wars. Numerous foreigners had also arrived to support their team. Thousands of children were watching.

Why? Manifestly spectators were more interested in England winning than in watching top-class cricket. They were happy because the interruption meant that their team had a better chance of drawing the match. To that end they were content to spend hours twiddling their thumbs. Anything was better than the possibility of defeat.

Even when cricket was played, the mood of the crowd bordered on the demented. To watch the faces of English supporters in the public stands when an Australian wicket fell was to see a mixture of hatred and hysteria. Not the least shock experienced while sitting amongst spectators was the discovery that the people singing about Andrew Flintoff were not inebriated students but well-heeled 40-year-olds. What the hell are these people doing with their lives? What the hell is happening in this country?