Super question: did Ashes kill fire?

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The Independent Online

Still, the Johnnie Walker Humdrum Series would not have quite the same ring and the International Cricket Council, the organisers of an event that amounts to an upmarket cricket festival, can only press ahead with their original objectives: to place the world's greatest players in the same arena and to make oodles of money for distribution to member countries.

It has not lost all credibility. The series of three one-day matches and a Test match, to be played over six days - and all contentiously granted official status - promises to be highly competitive. But if England can do it, then a World XI in which room can be found for only two England players should find the whole affair a cakewalk.

That, at least, is the theory. Make no mistake, Australia will be smarting. They came to England as undisputed world leaders in both forms of the game. First, they were pushed all the way in the one-day section of the season, losing to Bangladesh, sharing the NatWest Series and finally winning the three-match NatWest Challenge 2-1. Then came the seismic shift in the balance of power in the Ashes. But Australia's record means that they are still No 1: 127 points to second-placed England's 119 in the Test table, and 126 points to Sri Lanka's 123 in the one-day table.

"The Super Series is not something that could be organised often, if at all again," said event manager, Brendan McClements. "It was only because of the unprecedented fact that one team was so far ahead of the others and had beaten them all that the idea was proposed. It would not be viable if the top side was ahead by only a little way, and it won't always be the case that the best Test country also field the best one-day side."

There will remain a deep fascination to see if Australia really are slipping down the other side of the mountain, rather as people paid to watch Mike Tyson long after he was a stumblebum just to see if he could recapture old glories. If nowhere else, the Super Series will be followed passionately in the subcontinent. With Sachin Tendulkar having withdrawn because his elbow injury is taking longer to clear up than expected, India have only two representatives, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag, but both will be scrutinised intensely at home. The sponsors' growing business in India is why they got involved in the venture.

As for Dravid and Sehwag, they will be glad of a break from an India team riven by internal dissent after an exchange of views between the long-term captain, Sourav Ganguly, and the new coach, Greg Chappell. Something similar will apply to Brian Lara and Chris Gayle, who have not been in the West Indies side because of a dispute between the players and the board.

The World squads are full of illustrious cricketers whom it is worth crossing continents to see in the same team. Andrew Flintoff, Stephen Harmison (Test squad) and Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen (one-day squad) may not think it is worth leaving their front room for after their exertions, but the occasion seems bound to win them round.

There are several anomalies. The selectors - a panel of the great and the good of former players, chaired by Sunil Gavaskar and including Michael Atherton - have tried to give everybody a fair crack. They would claim they have tried to act as proper selectors, but in doing so they have paid scant regard to the official ICC player ratings.

Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand left-arm spinner, for instance, is in both parties, although he is only the sixth- ranked spinner in the Test ratings. Muttiah Muralitharan demanded selection, but both Anil Kumble and Danish Kaneria can consider themselves unfortunate.

Perhaps Lara had to be picked in both squads, but he has slipped to 24th in the one-day rankings, having seemed listless in that form of the game in the past two years. The Test batting has gone more or less to form, though Kumar Sangakkara, of Sri Lanka, should obviously have been keeper in the Test side as well as the one-day team.

Sangakkara is rated 39 batting places above Mark Boucher, who earned the nod. Since the standard of keeping hardly matters these days that can have played only a small part in discussions. But Sangakkara keeps regularly to the mysterious Murali; a few months ago Boucher was not even in South Africa's side.

South Africa have four players in the 13-man Test squad, three in the 14-man one-day squad. They also provide both captains, Graeme Smith and Shaun Pollock. While Michael Vaughan's batting form had declined sufficiently for the selectors to justify overlooking him, they have also therefore denuded themselves of the best Test captain.

Smith may do well enough, but they must have thought it a wizard wheeze (either that or they had too much of the sponsor's product) to pick Pollock as the one-day captain. His last experience of the job was in the World Cup, when he led South Africa to elimination at the group stage by miscalculating the number of runs they needed to win in a rain-affected match.

The Australians have made changes, dropping Damien Martyn from the Test line-up and bringing in the 30-year-old uncapped Brad Hodge. The all-rounder James Hopes comes into the one-day squad.

There are three one-day matches at the Telstra Dome, an indoor stadium in Melbourne: on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. The Super Test begins in Sydney the week after. When the matches were announced 14 months ago, the ICC hinted the top country in each table would take on a world team every four years. That idea has gone cold, at least for the time being.

The granting of official status is controversial. International matches should be between countries. If not, the matches between the Rest Of The World and England 35 years ago should be accorded official status. It's enough to make one take to the scotch.

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