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Test match (1): Australia 1, World XI 0
One-day internationals (3): Australia 3, World XI 0
The idea of pitting the leading team in the world against the best of the rest sounded wonderful in theory but, in practice, "Super Series" proved a highly inappropriate description of four one-sided games. Within an hour of the World XI losing the Test match by 210 runs more than two days ahead of schedule, the ICC's chief executive Malcolm Speed told a press conference that there were no plans to repeat the exercise in this form, even though the governing body's own website proclaimed that it was "expected to become a regular feature... played every fourth year". Flaws in the concept soon became evident, and the ICC, having cynically bestowed full Test and one-day international status on the matches, seemed keener than anybody to move on.
To think of the games as exhibition matches is an injustice to Australia, who were keenly competitive and desperate to remove any doubt about their lofty status after conceding the Ashes. There was actually something quite uplifting about the way that pride in a country proved greater motivation than the prize fund of $US1,322,000, which was all the World XI had to play for. Steve Harmison put it rather well when he described standing at the end of his mark and looking down at his shirt, but finding no England badge staring back to inspire him. And, as for the notion of the World XI as cricket's Harlem Globetrotters, that was well wide of the mark: at least the Globetrotters perform a few tricks.
The Ashes result a month earlier undermined Australia's claim to be the best in the world, despite their official No. 1 ranking in both Tests and oneday games. But only two England players made the World XI Test squad, which was chosen by Sunil Gavaskar, Michael Atherton, Aravinda de Silva, Richard Hadlee, Clive Lloyd and Jonty Rhodes. They overlooked Michael Vaughan as captain in favour of South Africa's Graeme Smith, a decision that might have been reversed had it been made a month or so later. Deadlines were imposed, in part for practical reasons, but the ICC also milked all the publicity it could as the Test squad was reduced from 30 (named on May 9) to 20 (on July 2) before the final parties were announced on August 23, six weeks ahead of the first one-day match. Despite all this, at no point did they look or feel like a proper team.
An initial plan to hold the event in South Africa was rejected. It seemed only fair that Australia, the champions, should enjoy home advantage. Knowledge of conditions certainly counted for something in the Test at Sydney, when Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill created havoc with their wrist-spin. But the fact that they were all match-fit after the Ashes was a bigger asset. Some of the World XI, most conspicuously Brian Lara and Jacques Kallis, appeared in desperate need of a hit. Shaun Pollock, an odd choice to captain the one-day side when he was no longer in charge of his own national team, suggested that a better time would be immediately after a World Cup, when everybody would be in the swing of things and the selectors could pick on form as well as reputation.
More pertinent was to question whether the concept was worth pursuing at all. The ICC claimed that it had been cricket rather than marketing-led, but Speed also described the "twin objectives" as "meeting event-revenue targets and achieving maximum global audience". So where, critics inevitably asked, did producing decent cricket rank among the priorities? This might have been a little unfair. Speed sometimes appears to be scowling even when he is happy, and as the days wore on his anger at the performances of the World XI became increasingly clear. In a rare reversal, the players let down the administrators for a change. But the fact is that it would not have gone ahead without support from television.
Whatever the games looked like on the screen, they received a tepid greeting from the Australian public. With the MCG undergoing redevelopment before the 2006 Commonwealth Games, the Telstra Dome in Melbourne's docklands was a cold, soulless substitute, never more than 60% full during the three one-day games. At least the closed roof guaranteed play on some rainy evenings. But nothing - not even the prospect of seeing the Ashes hero Flintoff - shook or stirred to create a rush for tickets. Apart from the visit of Zimbabwe in 2003-04, the crowd for the first three days of the Test was the lowest aggregate at the SCG since 1996-97.
Statisticians continued to bemoan the granting of Test status. The ICC's own board initially rejected a recommendation from its Chief Executives' Committee to give the official stamp. They were asked to reconsider, having approved a one-day game for tsunami relief, and did as they were told second time around. There appeared to be no plausible reason why these games should be sanctioned but not those between England and the Rest of the World in 1970 and possibly the 1971-72 matches between Australia and a World XI. The ICC's own regulations defined a Test as "Any cricket match of not more than five days' scheduled duration played between teams selected by Full Members as representatives of their Member Countries": despite this they gave Test status to a six-day game (which was over in less than four) between Australia and a composite XI. All in all, this was a fortnight where credulity was best left suspended.
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