"Once you in it, you in it. If it's a lie, then we fight on that lie. But we gotta fight."
Everyone who has watched The Wire has a favourite speech, and there's every chance it is this one from Slim Charles in season three. Stringer Bell, a key figure in Baltimore's criminal underworld, has just been killed. His senior ally, Avon Barksdale, having heard the news, sits alone in a room, contemplating a previous conversation with Stringer about leaving the drugs game for more above-board business practices. Slim reminds him that he - heck, all of them - are in too deep. And whatever reservations there may be, it's too late to doubt what has taken them this far or comprehend another way. The lie is there is no other life to lead, and fighting on that lie is the only way to ensure it remains their sole truth.
On Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the start of his first Ashes as England captain, Ben Stokes fought once more on a lie he has perpetuated onto his team. The engaging style of play, with its 11 wins out of 13 of the Tests since last summer, has come through not worrying about the result. If they are to best Australia over the next five Tests, beginning at Edgbaston on Friday, it is a lie they will have to scrap on more than ever.
"We want to win the Ashes," Stokes said. "I want to win the Ashes. But not being a results-driven team takes away from the end result and you just focus on the here and now. And if we play to the capabilities we know we're capable of, then I know we are able to beat any team."
That this is a contradictory ethos is not lost on Stokes. Nor that the profile of this upcoming series far outstrips anything this group have come across and is, therefore their most significant challenge to date. The war for England is not with the pace cartel, Nathan Lyon or the recent history in Australia's favour. It is internal - a conflict within each of them reared over a lifetime, to know nothing matters more than this.
The last three days in Birmingham have been promising. Brendon McCullum's wireless speakers blared out house-party hits while everyone netted intensely. Media engagements ranged from confrontational (Harry Brook) to comically self-deprecating (Moeen Ali). Rob Key and Luke Wright, managing director and national selector, respectively, joined in with the Wednesday morning kickabout. At times you had to double-check the countless posters here to remind yourself something big was coming up.
Over the next few days, we will find out which individuals were the most successful at embracing the falsehoods. By the end of July, we'll know if enough did so to bring the urn home for the first time since 2015.
If you're an England fan, it might be worth pausing here, to take stock on this Thursday evening. Because it's worth reflecting on the last year because this could all unravel from tomorrow. Not the results or the performances but the connection. Have you ever felt closer to an England Test team in your life?
Something about how they have operated has prised open a gate-kept format. Maybe it's the way they have essentially played the game like your mate who doesn't really like cricket suggested - trying to hit every ball to the boundary and take a wicket with every delivery. Maybe it's how they get snapped orchestrating elaborate human chains in kebab shops when pissed out of their minds after celebrating a win. Maybe it's the bucket hats.
All this has probably permeated your world beyond cricket. One of your colleagues has asked you about this new thing the England cricket team are doing. Someone a table over from you at the pub is talking about how they're the best team in the world right now. Your nan is wondering if the head coach is called Barry.
They approach each match yearning for the same micro satisfactions all those weekend warriors on parks and greens know. They get that this is supposed to be fun. They get that life, ultimately, is for living. And they get that Test cricket is brilliant and deserves to be shared. Not that they're going to save it, of course. Speak to the board about that one. But they certainly won't be responsible for letting it die or worse - fashioned into some kind of knock-off Wimbledon, the most soulless of the Great British sporting events.
Yes, it is true - over the next two months we will find out how good Bazball is. But take time to appreciate what we know it to be.
It is not having call times but everyone being on time. Optional training sessions where everyone is busting a gut. No team meetings but somehow everyone being on the same page. Doing right by yourself by being good to those around you. Not being afraid to lose, but only doing it twice in 13 Tests. Empowering youngsters and liberating load-bearing pros. Treating the most traditional format respectfully while making it more accessible than ever before.
Even if this does not work against Australia, Stokes and his charges enter their biggest fight on a lie that has already provided so much. Urn or no urn, 2005 redux or no 2005 redux - this has already given more of the game to the masses. And that might be the most important truth of all.