By Quazi Zulquarnain Islam
"I keep seeing adverts for the DVD of The Greatest Test. I hope they send me a copy and that it will come with all the usual extras like deleted scenes and alternative endings"
Mike Kasprowicz still hurting about Edgbaston
By the time you are reading this, the greatest marketing revolution in cricket since the 1970's breakaway Kerry Packer's World Series, will already be underway.
Yes, there are no other words to describe the ICC Super Series that kicks off for the first time on Thursday, the 5th of October with the first of three One Day Internationals under the closed roof of the Telstra Dome in Melbourne. For many the excitement stems from the fact that this is a new concept but unbeknownst to numerous the concept of the Super Test and Super Matches have already been explored before. As they say there is nothing new under the sun.
The first Super Test or such of its kind took place during the early 70's when an Australian side took on a World XI featuring the likes of Sir Garfield Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Zaheer Abbas and Tony Greig.
Also as aforementioned there were quite a few super Tests that took place during the late 70's as part of the Kerry Packer era. The most recent mentionable such initiative took place during the late eighties when Mike Gatting captained an MCC selection against a Rest of the World side. Gatting who hit a memorable century in the match also was able to call upon the likes of Richard Hadlee and Michael Holding to open the bowling.
There have been quite a few since then, the ICC V MCC battles, the World Cricket Tsunami appeal match and most recently the Jacques Kallis invitation versus South Africa matches. But none of them came even close to matching the marketing and sporting magnitude of the Johnny Walker Super Series. The common factor in almost all those matches was the fact that some of the most exciting players in the world were united in one team to battle against another such team.
Well one might say that the Super Series follows the same premise. Yes and no. Yes, it does call upon the best side in the world to face a combination of the best of the rest of the world. No, because it is slightly more different. Firstly, the ICC has granted the super series official status unlike its predecessors. This means that this time it's the real thing. No ifs ands or buts about it. And don't count on seeing too many reverse sweeps or cheeky flicks to fine leg. This time they are playing for stats if not their country. Winning matters!
Personally I believe that it is for that reason and for that reason alone that the series may represent something close to a success. By the time it ends my bold statement may entail me to more than a few slices of humble pie not least from my friends but I believe that the sole motivating factor would be to beat Australia and in the process perhaps improve personal statistics. After all that is the one uniting factor amongst all the players (save perhaps a certain Freddy Flintoff).
The Australian team has a faux pas appeal to it. It is a pale shadow of the dominant team that rampaged the world of cricket not two years back. It is true that they have lost only one series and in all reality to a strong team playing at home. But then again this was not just a series. It was The Ashes crickets equivalent to the holy grail. And the opponents were England, sworn enemies numero uno!
More than the 2-1 score line it was England's utter domination in all the matches save for the first that really shocked most observers. And added to that is the fact that the Australian team that will take the field on Thursday will be missing past stalwarts like Damien Martyn, "Dizzy" Gillsespe and Michael Kasprowicz while others like Hayden look prime candidates for the chop and well past their prime. Of course they do have Shane Warne and to watch the greatest leg spinner of all time in action against the collective best will be a treat to watch.
The World XI team (disappointment it may have been for many) is perhaps the biggest trump card in the series. Its been almost every schoolboys dream to see the best in the world line up not against but alongside each other for a match. I remember me and my friends during my school days whiling away our time in boring classes by selecting and deselecting players in the hopes of coming up with the perfect World XI team. Seeing the likes of Tendulkar and Lara and Inzamam and Kallis lining up one after the other and the bowling spearheaded by Shoaib Akhtar ( Wasim & Curtly it was during those times) and Steve Harmison was a dream many cherished and will now get to experience first hand.
Of course, Akram and Ambrose are along gone. Lara has not played cricket in half a year. Andrew Flintoff has already called the long journey to face Australia an "unappetizing prospect." Tendulkar is missing and Inzamam may yet find himself excluded from the final XI but that does not take away anything from the principle of the thing.
So what kind of action can we expect? Crash bang hitting is definitely on the agenda in the ODI's what with Viru Sehwag, Shahid Afridi, Chris Gayle and Kevin Pieterson in the team.
In the test matches it will be fascinating to see how Australia strike back after their Ashes thumping. Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath up against Lara and Kallis and company will also be a mouth watering prospect.
The main question has also changed from "Can the Aussies be beaten?" to " Can they come back?"
The final verdict is simple. The idea itself is excellent and although motivated more by marketing desires than sporting ones it is one that can be a trump card for the ICC in the future. How far the idea shall be executed is a fact that remains open to debate. Here is to hoping that the cricket matches the hype that the series has got!
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