The roof of the Telstra Dome in Melbourne is brilliant at excluding the rain, but it can do nothing to prevent a deep sense of anti-climax infiltrating the arena during today's third game of the Johnnie Walker Super Series.
The success of this expensive out-of-season TV bon-anza now depends on the six-day Test which begins in Sydney on Friday. The first three days are sold out; it will be played in natural light; and the composition of the World XI intended to challenge Australia's hegemony in their own backyard already seems more intriguing than the result of the third one-day game.
Australia enjoyed such easy wins in the first two one-dayers - by 93 runs on Wednesday and 55 runs on Friday - that the third became redundant. Last week's victories were useful therapy for Australia's cricketers, still in recovery from the shock of the Ashes. They will exploit the results to bolster their own high opinion of their team.
The opposition have no such motive to call on. The World XI are an all-star team whose individual loyalties lie at home rather than with their coach, John Wright, or their manager, Sunil Gavaskar.
Malcolm Speed, the International Cricket Council's chief executive, seemed acutely conscious of this after the World XI's embarrassing defeat in front of the small crowd in the first one-dayer. "Everyone was disappointed that the World XI didn't make a closer fight of it... I have hoped for a stronger performance tonight," he said before the second match. All he got was a small improvement in front of a bigger crowd. But total attendances may fall short of the ICC's modest target of 80,000 bums on seats over the three-match series.
Of course, the World XI players were not entirely without motive. Prize money and match fees of $1.6 million (£908m)for the three-match series were a good reason to get on the plane. But for many it was the wrong time of year. South Africa have not played a Test since May; India and Pakistan since April.
More than half the Test squad are undercooked. The English players are still dog- tired, although Kevin Pietersen never lacks enthusiasm. Before he flew away, Flintoff said: "I couldn't think of anything worse, to be honest." Honesty stopped off as he passed through customs and immigration in Melbourne, but Flintoff looked as if his heart and mind were elsewhere.
The ICC's problem is that there is no right time of year. Their salvation may be that a second week working together might have removed some of the rust and drawn on a fresh draught of inspiration for the World XI's Test squad, who will be selected from 13 players, 10 of whom were in the one-day squad.
When you consult the oracle about selection, the oracle - anonymous, naturally - says that the balance of the Test XI will depend on whether Flintoff bats at six or seven. Flintoff at six, followed by the keeper Mark Boucher, leaves room for four more bowlers - Shaun Pollock, Steve Harmison and Shoaib Akhtar, plus the spinner Muttiah Muralitharan.
But playing Flintoff at six means dropping one of the world's finest batsmen. Take your pick: Brian Lara, Rahul Dravid, Inzamam-ul-Haq or Jacques Kallis. With no help from the oracle, the best case is to let Kallis go, especially as his stock bowling will not be required.
Flintoff at seven saves Kallis's place, and forces the selectors to decide between Shoaib and Harmison. After watching Shoaib's lack of penetration in Melbourne, the choice ought to be easy. But without four pacemen, the World XI would find it harder to bowl out Australia twice.
There is one more reason for dropping Kallis. South Africa are over-represented in this all-star team. If Kallis plays, there will four South Africans in the XI, the others being Graeme Smith, Boucher and Pollock. This exaggerates their standing among the world's cricketing nations.
The reason? Among the selection panel of great cricketers who chose the team, Jonty Rhodes, who talked loudest, longest, and last, simply wore out the opposition.Reuse content