Super Series is a world away from real thing

Australia rediscover lustre against Upper Clogthorpe Thirds
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The Independent Online

It specifically entailed recovering from a first-innings deficit of 155, which had been extended to 221 by the premature close. They have not got where they are without producing a cricketing trick or two, but playing for this world is one thing, playing out of it another.

For almost all of the first two days this Test went pretty much the way of the three one-day matches between the sides last week; that is, Australia all the way. The proposal to call the whole package a Super Series is looking as wise as Frank Zappa's decision to name his daughter Moon Unit and his son Dweezil.

Nor is that the extent of the misguided names around. The International Cricket Council mandarins must be cringing at the repeated below-par displays of the team bearing their brand. Why did nobody call them Upper Clogthorpe Thirds and be done with it?

It is easy to be smart after the event, and one of the objectives of the ICC in arranging these matches was to make money for their members and associates. In principle that is wholly admirable, also fulfilling as it does the understandable cravings of the television paymasters who sustain the game.

But the desperation to give the matches an official credence they did not quite deserve (or need) was quickly apparent. The ICC chief executives' committee twice asked their board to make the matches full internationals, so they could be quasi-competitive and enter the records.

On the first occasion they were rebuffed, but there was another request after the Tsunami Relief match had been granted official status. That had been an entirely understandable reaction to the tragedy, and thus was a can of worms opened. There will be no end to it now.

It seemed rum that the ICC should invoke past clashes involving World teams to boost this series ("Cricket enjoys a welcome tradition of composite teams," they said in the initial announcement). Yet they have steadfastly refused to grant them official status in retrospect when games - in England in 1970 and in Australia in 1971-72 - consisted of proper five-match series in which the World XI clearly had time to blend as a team. Perhaps the crux is that Test matches can only ever take place between countries, even when they are Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

The main feature of the series that has set it apart from all others is the use of video technology. Umpires can refer all appeals to the third umpire before making a decision. This is a trial the ICC had to make sometime, but it has had the effect of making the series seem more of a fairground attraction than a serious cricket match. "Roll up, roll up, see the bearded lady and the umpires afraid to make a decision."

When Matthew Hayden was on 28 in Australia's first innings, Simon Taufel, the best umpire in the world (and that's official) referred Stephen Harmison's lbw appeal. It was a magnificent ball, fast and straightening, which thudded through Hayden's def-ences. The umpire for Upper Clogthorpe Thirds would have had his hand up quicker than James Herriot's up a sick cow's behind, but not Taufel. The replay indicated that it might have been (but probably wasn't) too high. Hayden made 111, Harmison has been dogged by ill luck for a year. Someone soon will pay.

The video was conspicuously absent yesterday when Mark Boucher was wrongly given out caught behind for nought by Rudi Koertzen. That alone shows why this system is terminally flawed. Boucher could have done without that, since his wicketkeeping has made dear Geraint Jones look like a cross between Alan Knott and Bob Taylor.

He was but one of the illustrious failures. Although Australia lost their last four wickets for 14 runs during an inspired early burst from Andrew Flintoff, making at least 100 runs fewer than they might have wished, it was a temporary impingement upon their control of the match.

The World XI were then bowled out for a miserly 190. Glenn McGrath bowled an opening spell of admirable precision and the spin pair of Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill did the rest. Only Virender Sehwag made a half-century for the World, Flintoff struck four sixes in his 35, Warne bowled beautifully.

But the World batting, like the fielding and bowling, sometimes had a distracted air about it, like kids visiting a rich maiden aunt knowing they ought to give the impression of wishing to be there but not quite hiding their heartfelt desire to get the hell out.

Viv Richards withdrew from the Lord's bicentenary match between MCC and the Rest of the World in 1988 to play for Rishton in the Lancashire League. Some of these boys must wish they had done likewise.

Australia left the field probably expecting to win sometime tomorrow. That, at least, would be like the old days.

REPLAY: 1977 - Now that's a real celebration

Despite a publicity machine lubricated so much that it smells like snake oil, the current Sydney Super Test is a cricket festival. It lacks proper sporting competition, unlike another exhibition match in Melbourne 28 years ago.

The Centenary Test, which began on 12 March 1977 and finished at 5.12pm on its fifth evening, was perfect in almost every way. It contained prodigious bowling, spectacular batting, drama, sportsmanship and a result defying credulity. It was the brainchild of Hans Ebeling, who had played once for Australia in 1934. He wanted to mark the 100th anniversary of the First Test of all in March, 1877. The result was a game between England and Australia played in an unmistakably festive air. Of the 244 living cricketers who had played for either England or Australia in matches between the two, 218 attended. Champagne flowed. But when the cricket started it was deadly serious. Australia, put in, were bowled out for 138 in front of 61,000. All England's seamers contributed and Derek Underwood provided a flourish with 3 for 16 from 11.6 overs. England were then dismantled by Dennis Lillee (6 for 26). Only one of the top six reached double figures in a miserable total of 95. Australia then made 419 for 9 declared. So England needed 463 to win, at almost four runs an over. Derek Randall, in his fifth Test, produced one of the great innings, pulling, hooking, driving, playing to the crowd. On 161 he was given out caught behind but Rod Marsh indicated that he had dropped it. England just ran out of steam and Australia won by 45 runs, a replica of the result in the match being commemorated.