Super Series Preview

For the first time in a generation, starting tomorrow, a Rest Of The World team will take on a home nation in a series of competitive cricket fixtures. While there has been speculation in recent weeks over the excitement about the series dwindling in the face of Australia’s disappointing Ashes series, excitement in Australia seems to be even bigger than originally hoped. Junction Oval in Melbourne was packed to capacity by a crowd looking to see the World XI in a casual 13-a-side warmup match against Victoria just days ago, and for cricket to attract such attention so soon after the two major football codes finished their seasons is virtually unheard of.

Aside from simply providing entertainment, the series is set to potentially answer a number of long-standing cricket questions. How much is experience as a team worth when compared to raw cricketing talent? Perhaps more significantly, just how good is this Australian team, and how much has it declined in recent times? And, if it has declined, is there enough bench strength in Australian cricket to replace those who have lost form and retain the title of “best in the world”?

Australia has named squads with several key changes for the ODI series and one-off test. Damien Martyn, Australia’s star batsman in 2004/05, has been dropped from the test squad and his career may be in danger, Michael Kasprowicz is gone despite also coming off a good season, and a stalwart of Australia’s bowling attack over nearly a decade in Jason Gillespie has also been dropped after a shocking decline in performance. Shaun Tait and Brad Hogg have suffered severe injuries and Matthew Hayden has left the ODI squad as well. All this means that many fresh faces will appear for Australia, and what was once billed as “the best against the rest” may instead become a rebuilding exercise, and an opportunity for Australia’s young stars to prove themselves on the biggest stage possible. Names like Cameron White, Nathan Bracken, Shane Watson, James Hopes, Brad Hodge and Stuart Clark may well be major parts of Australian cricket in future years, but right now they range from the inexperienced to the virtually unheard of, and to take on the best in the world with such a lineup is a great challenge for Australian cricket indeed. It is a challenge they might have relished a few months ago, but Ponting’s men will now be desperate to avoid a loss and a slide from top position in the ICC as much as to score a win to further cement their place among the greats.

The World XI are favoured by most to inflict the first home series loss in over a decade to the Australians in the test, and in the ODIs as well they will start favourites. While Austalia’s lineup is full of surprise selections, new faces and missing stalwarts, the World XI looks a powerhouse outfit, with virtually every name known to even the most casual cricket fan. Where Australia’s public image in the lead-up is one of damage control and barely-concealed worries, the World team is brimming with confidence. Sachin Tendulkar’s absence from the team was forced but may well be looked upon as a blessing given his poor form in recent times, and aside from that the ICC selection panel has had the whole non-Australian world to choose from in selecting their side.

Whatever the result, the biggest potential benefit is for cricket itself. In an age where cricket is gradually being pushed out of the spotlight by more glamourous sports, the game itself has hit back with one of the greatest Ashes series in decades, and it will be immediately followed by a match involving teams of remarkably high standard, and virtually every star player in the world. There could be no better advertisement for the game than this Super Series should it prove a success, and despite many unexpected things working against it in recent months, it does look as though he public at least has faith.

Teams for 1st ODI
ICC World XI
Shahid Afridi, Virender Sehwag, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Rahul Dravid, Jacques Kallis, Brian Lara, Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff, Shaun Pollock (capt), Daniel Vettori, Muttiah Muralitharan, Shoaib Akhtar

Adam Gilchrist (wk), Simon Katich, Ricky Ponting (capt), Damien Martyn, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Andrew Symonds, Cameron White, Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath, Nathan Bracken

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