The Ashes is sinking into the mire of its own hogwash

'Umpires said there was nothing in it' - Bayliss on Anderson 'tampering' (2:23)

Trevor Bayliss says that the umpires dismissed claims that James Anderson may have been tampering with the ball on day four in Melbourne. (2:23)

Perhaps, on a busier day - a day when almost half the overs had not been lost to rain - the "ball tampering" narrative would have been buried by more worthwhile content.

But, on a day which featured only five boundaries and saw the run-rate crawl along at 2.34 an over, an angle had to be found. And, with Australia struggling to save a game for the first time in the series, that angle turned out to be a thinly-disguised suggestion that England had engaged in ball-tampering in an attempt to gain reverse swing.

It's hard to interpret headlines such as "England in ball-tampering furore" (wwos.nine.com.au) and "England in the spotlight over ball treatment" (cricket.com.au; the website owned by Cricket Australia) any other way. Sure, there are some caveats in the articles. But the clickbait nature of modern journalism throws the mud before those caveats satisfy the lawyers. And it's the mud that sticks.

Maybe, on first viewing, the footage of James Anderson holding the ball might have raised some eyebrows. And maybe, by some interpretations, England's tactic of throwing the ball in on the bounce to ensure one side is worn is stretching legality to the limit. It is true that they were warned not to over-do it by the umpires. It is also true that Australia were.

"Kumar just said, don't worry, there is absolutely nothing in it. His words were: it was a beat up - it's made up."

But anyone looking closely - or doing some research - might have seen the England bowlers were standing next to the umpires when the 'incident' occurred. They might also have noticed that any alleged scratching was to the shiny side of the ball; an action that would counter the attempts to gain reverse swing.

Furthermore, they might then have checked with the match-referee before making any allegation. Had they done so, they would have been told that no complaint had been made. An England team spokesman subsequently said they had received apologies from a couple of broadcasters, an acknowledgement that checks should have been made before publication and an understanding the relevant articles would either be amended or deleted.

Trevor Bayliss, the England coach, described the story as "a beat up" subsequently suggesting that was also the expression used by the umpires. Asked to explain what that meant he said: "it's made up."

"As soon as I saw the headlines I raced into the umpires' room and that was their words: it's a beat-up, nothing to worry about, absolutely fine," Bayliss said. "You are allowed to clean the ball. [Umpire] Kumar Dharmasena had said to our guys - well both sides - that there is no problem but he would like them to do it in front of the umpires so they can see and there is nothing untoward.

"Kumar said there is a bit of dirt and mud out there. It does get on the ball and in some of the seams. You are allowed to clean it off. Watching the footage, if he was scratching it, it was the wrong side to get it to reverse. I'm quite sure that wasn't the case.

"Kumar just said, don't worry, there is absolutely nothing in it. His words were: it was a beat up - it's made up."

"This latest non-story sustained what appears to be a pretty conscious campaign of sledging against the touring team that extends beyond the pitch and into the newspapers and broadcasts"

Maybe England only have themselves to blame. In the days when they used to be bowled out by the likes of Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram, allegations of ball tampering were never far from the surface - both from the media and the dressing room - while in the days when they were bowled out by Muttiah Muralitharan and Saeed Ajmal, whispers of suspect actions proliferated. On both occasions, there was a failure to appreciate the skill of the players. It's not so long since a UK paper published a match-fixing expose that exposed nothing, too.

And maybe, in the longer-term, broadcasters may seek to recalibrate commentary teams that are strong on cricketing experience - which is clearly a tremendous asset - but lacking in journalistic rigour. There are times when the Channel 9 commentary, predominantly staffed as it is by cricketers who have served Australia with distinction, becomes as partial as any broadcaster anywhere in the world. And yes, that includes the North Korean channel that only shows Kim Jong-un hitting holes in one on the golf course. While sitting on a unicorn.

But this latest non-story sustained what appears to be a pretty conscious campaign of sledging against the touring team that extends beyond the pitch and into the newspapers and broadcasts. Had the boot been on the other foot, talk would have been of "whingeing Poms" (surely a pejorative expression used to describe a nationality; you wonder if it will be in circulation in 20 years) and a "doctored" pitch. Recall the reactions to England winning the Ashes in 2013 and 2015? Was it more 'well played, England' or 'doctored Pom pitches define the series'? You decide.

In the last couple of days, Michael Hussey - who was also vocal on the ball-tampering issue - had somehow misconstrued Stuart Broad's concession that he "wasn't competitive" in Perth into an admission that he hadn't tried.

Under the headline 'Amazing 'Broad didn't try'' (foxsports.com.au), Hussey said it was "unbelievable" that Broad was "almost saying he wasn't trying hard enough in Perth", which "you find amazing in an Ashes series". Hussey signed off by wondering why Broad "hadn't been working this hard in the lead-up to Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth".

What Broad actually said was this: "I thought I bowled pretty well at Brisbane, okay at Adelaide, but very poorly in Perth. I didn't find a good rhythm and that probably showed. All you can do as a top-flight sportsman is make sure your work ethic is always at the top level, that you are looking to improve and that you are competitive. I was not as competitive as I should have been in Perth. I wanted to improve that."

But why would we expect any better?

When England scored at a run-rate of 2.58 in Brisbane, they were dubbed the "Bore-me Army" but when Australia scored at a rate of 2.51 they were praised for their determination.

When Mike Atherton - a man who stood up to Allan Donald at his best in a particularly thrilling encounter - wrote a considered, nuanced piece suggesting some tailenders (whatever country they might be from) might need greater protection from the short ball to avoid serious injury, he was lampooned as a "whingeing Pom".

"It is relentless, it is cheap and, most of all, it is really, really boring"

When Anderson suggested there wasn't a huge amount of depth in Australia's pace resources - a suggestion that has largely been vindicated by Jackson Bird's attempt to stand in for Mitchell Starc (no bird has had a worse Christmas and plenty of turkeys have had a rough time of things) - it was dismissed as abusive and disrespectful.

When the Jonny Bairstow buttgate incident was first reported, one newspaper's page lead called it a "nightclub attack" while Moeen Ali - that's the Muslim Moeen Ali - was recently asked if he was going "to be able to keep out of the pub" for a few days. It is relentless, it is cheap, it is hysterical, it is parochial and, most of all, it is really, really boring.

Cricket is sinking into the mire of its own hogwash. If the Ashes, of all contests, needs this sort of tosh to remain of interest to the general public, we are in real trouble.