What is the point?
The cockles of an English cricket fan's heart can always be warmed by seeing England beat Australia at cricket. I suppose that if it were inevitable that an England win in such a game would mean the outbreak of global nuclear war, or the massacre of the hostages taken in reprisal for a previous victory, there might be some twinge of concern but otherwise I cannot conceive of it being unwelcome.
And yesterday's game was an entertaining one, with some unexpectedly good batting from Michael Clarke, who has not always shone in limited-over cricket, what is fast becoming characteristically good batting from Eoin Morgan to outdo Clarke for the Player-of-the-Match award, and the result remaining in doubt until about the last eight or ten overs. All in all, pretty much what the doctor prescribes when someone complains of not having seen England beat Australia often enough.
But what on earth is the point? Why is this five-match series being played at all? Yes, I know the answer is that it makes money, but if ever there was an example of pointlessly adding to the international schedule, this is surely it.
Australia are only here at all because Leeds is dressing up as Lahore and London doing its best to be Karachi for Australia's tour of Pakistan, just as movies set in New York are often actually filmed in Toronto. They were here last year for the main event and we're off to their place this winter for the return bout, so this is just redundant - international cricket for international cricket's sake.
True, the England football team may be out of the FIFA World Cup by the time you read this, but if they manage to squeeze through, that's where the nation's attention is going to remain focused, and if they don't the sports media are in any case going to spend at least the next two weeks on the post mortem. Nobody except rabid cricket fans is going to even notice these ODIs are taking place.
And rabid cricket fans already had a juicy item on their menu as an alternative to the football in the shape of the Twenty20 Cup, the competition which usually guarantees full houses at small grounds and crowds of 15,000-plus at the big ones. This would have been the ideal opportunity to let fans see their England heroes in their county colours and thus promote the Twenty20 Cup as the premier event the ECB keep telling us it is and give it a serious chance of surviving the deadening effect of the soccer. In fact, Middlesex were promoting the Twenty20 as an opportunity to see six internationals playing – Adam Gilchrist, David Warner and Owais Shah are appearing, but Andrew Strauss, Eoin Morgan and Steven Finn have been removed from the fray by their England commitments. There is surely a case to be answered about truthfulness in a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority should anyone care to lodge one.
Of course I shall continue to watch the games, turning up in person to the one at Lord's, and with any luck be generally entertained by them. There is a novelty value in the fact that it is no longer inevitable that England will lose unless their opponents make a horrible mess of things – which is perhaps all the tweaking that was necessary to redeem the format for English audiences – and England v Australia is, as I said at the beginning, never entirely devoid of meaning.
But it is still a pointless irrelevance and should not have been staged.