Angus Fraser: Super Series cashes in on appetite for Flintoff and spectacle

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It is a nice concept. Well, it was until England gave the Aussies a hiding in the Ashes this year. It is premature to announce that Michael Vaughan, not Ponting, is now the captain of the best team in the world, but it is fair to say that England are playing the best cricket on the planet.

Australia gained the right to host these matches by being ranked the best Test and one-day side in the world on 1 April 2005, and it is a position they still hold despite their 2-1 defeat to England. These matches will be played every four years and Vaughan may get the chance to be in Ponting's position in 2009 if England continue to play as they have in the past 18 months.

Yet England's Ashes success has taken nothing away from the three one-day matches and one six-day Test that will be played in Melbourne and Sydney starting today and finishing on 19 October. The series against Australia has left everyone wanting more cricket and we all want to see how Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Kevin Pietersen fare in teams with Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Jacques Kallis, Brian Lara, Muttiah Muralitharan and Shoaib Akhtar. The majority of cricket's new fans also want to see the Aussies get another good walloping.

The other reason why the ICC has squeezed four more games into an already tight schedule is money. Again this is fair enough, as long as the profits made are used wisely by the ICC. Spending a month in Australia before jetting off to Pakistan will be a worthwhile experience for Flintoff - the only England player in both the Test and one-day squads - and should the Rest of the World defeat Ponting's side he will collect a healthy share of the $2.6m (£1.5m) on offer.

Deciding on a final XI will not be an easy task for the World XI selectors, and it is to be hoped that politics do not play a part in their decision making. Yet it cannot be ruled out, as we have seen in the selection of Sachin Tendulkar, who has spent most of the past 12 months recovering from an elbow injury. Tendulkar was never likely to play yet he was named in the final squad. Could this have had something to do with selling the match to India? And Shoaib Akhtar may be fast and have a high profile, but Pakistan seem to have had enough of his antics.

The ICC will trial the greater use of technology during the matches by allowing umpires to refer decisions they are unsure about to a third official. At the moment umpires can only refer run-outs and stumpings, but during the next month they will be able to ask for a second opinion on catches and lbws. But I believe this will bring the game to a standstill. We all want the umpires to get the majority of decisions right, but everybody makes mistakes. We should accept this and get on with the game.

Rest of the World sides are not a new concept. The first was selected in 1970 when South Africa's scheduled tour of England was cancelled at the last moment at the urgent request of the British government. The government's anti-apartheid decision left English cricket with the prospect of a season without Test cricket, and as a consequence the Test and County Cricket Board organised a series of five matches between England and the Rest of the World. Guinness sponsored the unofficial Test matches and five of the South Africans who had been turned back - Eddie Barlow, Graeme Pollock, Peter Pollock, Mike Proctor and Barry Richards - were selected in the Rest of the World squad. Gary Sobers was made captain, and the great West Indian all-rounder was joined by four of his team-mates: Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Lance Gibbs and Deryck Murray.

Farokh Engineer represented India, Intikhab Alam and Mushtaq Mohammad Pakistan, and Garth McKenzie was the sole Australian. England lost the series 4-1. Interest was low initially, but the venture gained momentum and a profit of £43,000 was made. South Africa's subsequent expulsion from Test cricket left holes in the scheduling and a Rest of the World side visited Pakistan for a five-day match during the winter of 1970/71.

Cricket became accustomed to the absence of South Africa and the game was drifting along until Kerry Packer changed the face of the game for good when he signed up 35 of the world's best cricketers on lucrative contracts in the summer of 1977. World Series Cricket was born and Australia played three Supertest matches against the West Indies before taking on a World XI in January/February 1978.

Many of the leading players in the world, disillusioned with the money they were being paid, had turned their back on playing for their country to join Packer's WSC. And in February 1979 at the Sydney Cricket Ground Tony Greig, Alan Knott and Derek Underwood were playing for a World XI against an Australian side containing Ian Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh for a World XI while England were competing against Australia for the Ashes in Adelaide. Later that year Packer and the Australian Cricket Board settled their differences. They began to work together and, as a consequence, the World XI disappeared.

There has been the odd occasion since when a Rest of the World side has been selected and the matches are normally played to mark a significant event. This was the case in August 1987 when the Marylebone Cricket Club celebrated its bicentenary with a five-day match against the Rest of the World at Lord's. It still rankles with me that the hundreds scored by Graham Gooch, Mike Gatting, Sunil Gavaskar and Gordon Greenidge appear on the famous honours boards in the home and visiting dressing-rooms at Lord's. The boards are supposed to contain Test hundreds and five-wicket hauls. These performances should not be there because the match was not recognised as a Test match.

People may question the quality of the cricket played in matches with Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, and one does wonder whether they should still be playing Test cricket, while those who played in World Series Cricket said it was the toughest cricket they ever played. But they are missing the point. Only international matches between different countries should be given Test and one-day ranking.

The ICC, in its wisdom, has awarded this month's matches Test and one-day status. England against Australia this summer was Test cricket. These Super Series matches are of great interest, but they are only a show.