On the Front Foot: ICC's finest referee may have to be broad-minded in India

The Test series between India and Australia starting on Thursday is the year's big one. It pits an ageing side of resplendent batting talent, wily veteran spinners and vibrant speed merchants against a team who have taken all before them but may, just, be starting on their journey down the other side of the mountain.

That, of course, is only the half of it. The appeal goes deeper, as the Board of Control for Cricket in India conceded when asked about likely attendances. In short, it might all go off out there.

"Of late, an India-Australia series has attracted greater attention for reasons other than cricket," said the sport's governing body in India. "For example, the issue of racism raised its ugly head when Australia last visited India.

"Following this, when India were in Australia earlier this year the spat between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds, and comments from Matthew Hayden and others, created a hype around the series that resulted in matches being followed with much greater interest." Bring it on, boys.

Although Symonds has been dropped for disciplinary reasons, the dramatis personae are still in place to make for a volatile atmosphere. Sensing such probability, the International Cricket Council have, for once, taken no chances by appointing their top available team (excluding Simon Taufel, whose Australian nationality has prohibited him from standing).

The umpires are Rudi Koertzen, Asad Rauf (in the first two Tests), Billy Bowden and Aleem Dar (in the second two), all of them respected for different reasons. But perhaps the key figure will be Chris Broad as the series referee. Broad will tell the captains before a ball is bowled precisely what he expects and if they transgress he will impose stringent penalties.

"Tough but fair" is the Broad policy and it is what makes him by far the top referee on the panel. He is in danger of bringing the profession into repute.

It could spoil the handbags at dawn scenarios, though.

Another fistful of twenties

England, it sometimes seems, talk a big game but are not actually being allowed to play many. They have been ignored again in the establishment of a Twenty20 Super Series, which is due to start next year. It will feature India, Australia and South Africa.

It will ride roughshod over the World Twenty20, due to be held in England next summer, as well as the ICC ruling that the number of international T20s be severely curtailed, but that matters not if the sponsorship can be found.

It also rides roughshod over England, of course, who would indubitably have been eager. This means the ECB have now been left standing over the Indian Premier League, the Champions League and the Super Series.

All the ECB can do is cosy up to the billionaire Sir Allen Stanford, to play in a contentious match that has attached to it the largest monetary prize in team sport but is otherwise worthless.

England need to make friends with somebody quickly. Still, it will add an edge, as if one were needed, to the 2009 Ashes. There are now even more reasons to dislike Australia.

Michael behind the mike?

Whatever you may have heard and whatever rumours may have been leaked by those close to him, Michael Vaughan has held no talks with Sky Television about a possible future as a commentator. They have not approached the former England captain, nor has he been in touch with them. Yet, of course.

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