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The most consistent fault of the game's rulers, however, is that they are rotten impresarios: they have lost any sense of when and how to present a cricket match. I have warmed to the Super Test and one-day Superseries between Australia and the Rest of the World scheduled for this October and (unlike some statisticians) think the world will still turn if the fixtures have official Test and one-day status. But why hold them in October, when Australia is not geared up for cricket watching? And why only one Test when this could have provided the best series of all time? There is too much dross on the fixture list, that's why.
In the meantime, we move on to the 2005 season in England, an absolutely lip-smacking prospect, not least because it is an odd-numbered year when the midsummer months of June and July are (unlike any others in the twoyear cycle) free of football, leaving a gap in the back pages and the public consciousness for cricket to burst through. And what better than a potentially close Ashes series?
But no. Locked into an inflexible TV schedule and an even more inflexible mindset, the ECB have come up with something else. They are filling the entire second half of June - traditional time for the Lord's Ashes Test - with a tournament dedicated to the thrilling proposition of discovering the two best one-day teams out of England, Australia and Bangladesh. The Ashes will not even start until July 21 (when football is limbering up, earlier than usual to make room for the 2006 World Cup) and will not finish until September 12, deep into the football season and, very likely, the weather that did for the Champions Trophy.
This year marks the sesquicentenary of Wisden's greatest editor, Sydney Pardon. And it seems right to quote somewhere in the Notes his most famous phrase "touched the confines of lunacy," which he used to describe the 1909 England selectors. The selectors have made themselves fireproof lately, but the rest of cricket is so target-rich that one holds that phrase like a card player with the ace of trumps, hardly knowing the right moment to deploy it.
This would be it, except that someone has already played the joker. A leader in The Times described this scheduling as "total madness". And so it is.