ICC World XI v ACC Asia XI ODI, Melbourne January 10, 2005

Cricket's finest stand

Over 70,000 people who filled the massive MCG got what they really wanted © Getty Images

In the end, the result didn't matter. It was never meant to. What is cricket after all before life? In the sporting sense, it was odd watching the match which was billed as a one-day international, and it's difficult to say if the players felt the same intensity as they do while turning out in national colours. But they surely knew what was at stake: it wasn't a trophy or national pride, it was about rebuilding lives, giving hope, it was about standing up and being counted. It turned out to be a mismatch, but over 70,000 people who filled the massive MCG got what they really wanted.

The magic moment of the match came after it was over, when Bob Merriman, Cricket Australia's chairman, strode across to present a cheque for in excess of A$14million to World Vision. It was nearly as much as Cricket Australia's accumulated losses last year, and it was, by a distance, cricket's finest stand in many years. All it had taken was 12 days. It demonstrated, if any proof was needed, what good intentions could achieve. It was a game without losers.

It would be cynical to wonder if the World XI shouldn't have helped the Asian XI to score a few more runs and hit a few more sixes, because each run earned US$760 for the cause and each six US$38,000. But that would have turned the match into a charade. It was played as intended: in an honest competitive spirit. There's nothing, after all, to prevent the sponsors, Toyota and 3 Mobile, from pitching in with a few more thousand dollars if they want to.

Cricketers have turned out for charity matches before. Often it is for one of their own, and sometimes to support a larger cause. In 1996, a combined team of Indian and Pakistan players travelled to Colombo to play a solidarity match after a couple of teams had pulled out from their World Cup engagements in Sri Lanka citing security reasons. And the last time an Asian XI squared up against a Rest of the World XI, at Dhaka in 2000, it was for the "promotion of cricket". Today, the cause overwhelmed all else. Humanity hasn't known a natural calamity greater than last month's tsunamis, and it was appropriate that cricket should respond in the best possible way. It was a grand affair for a grand cause.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo in India and of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine.