The Best versus the Rest

An event that has received little coverage in the general press takes place in October this year. Two events actually. A series of three One Day matches in Melbourne and a six day “Super Test” in Sydney. Both ICC sanctioned events are to become an annual event where the number one rated side in each form of the game, at a given date (I think it’s about March) plays a team made of the rest of the world. At present, Australia is tops in both forms of the game, so they are hosting both One Day and Test events.

The Rest of the World squads were announced earlier this month – there is a Test squad and a One Day squad. There are 39 players in all making up the two squads of 30 players. There are 21 players in both squads.

The questions begs, can the Aussies win? It will be a tall order. I wrote recently that Australia has a team of super stars (and in reality, they have at least five) but they will be up against a team with 11 super stars, give or take. The Ashes series will have an impact on how many Englishmen are in the team and will certainly determine the fate of Flintoff – with such a pool of specialists to choose from, and Kallis, an all rounder will need to be really top shelf to gain selection. The Test team will look something like this:

Shoaib Akhtar

Something like that. Choosing the batsmen is pretty easy. Picking bowlers makes you realise that the world is short on class bowlers at present.

But any way you look at it, that is a strong team. Will the Aussies be able to overcome it?

In my opinion, cricket is a little easier than many team ball sports to “throw a best of team together”. The mechanics of most ball sports – soccer, union, league, Aussie Rules, Gaelic football, European handball etc means that the team must be well drilled and a well oiled machine. Communication that only comes from a great deal of time together on the playing field is paramount. For example, when George Gregan is served the ball at the back of the scrum, ruck or line out, Steve Larkam (usually) knows he is going to get the ball before he gets the ball. If Gregan’s execution is as it should be, Bernie knows exactly when to expect the ball on his chest and the opposition can try to stop it but in most cases, they are unable to.

Cricket is a little different. Interaction between players on the team is a little less direct. In the field, from the time the leaves the bowler’s hand to the time it finds it ultimate destination, whether that be the fence, the crowd, the wicket keeper’s gloves or anywhere else, the fielders have no control. None. Sure, the bowler can attempt to bowl a delivery to induce a particular shot – a bouncer to produce a catch at fine leg or a well pitched leg cutter to bring the slips into play. And I’m sure McGrath’s rib tickler to Jimmy Adams to present a simple catch to Langer at short leg and give McGrath his hat trick, is exactly what McGrath had in mind.

But even if the bowler can bowl exactly the ball he envisages, in the end, the strengths or failings of the batsman will determine which fielder is required. Many’s the time Warne has bowled it exactly where he wanted it to Tendulkar. Even in the air he can see it pitch, bite and take off stump. But Tendulkar comes down the track and launches the pill into orbit. Warnie still grimaces in anguish – so close. And curiously, even if the bowler balls the ball he wants, and the batsman makes the hoped for mistake, the fielders, particularly the slips, still have but a split second to react. The fielders normally don’t know what is coming next. If Kasper down at fine leg knew that Dizzie’s next three balls were going to be half trackers well outside off, he could sign autographs to relieve the boredom of that half an over.

And batting can be a lonely job. When Glen McGrath is running in to you, there is nothing that any of your team mates can do to help, except call him a “big girlie”. Communication when running is important, but as long as some basic skills are implemented, the batsman usually decides his own fate.

The point I’m making is that more than any other team ball sport, cricket has the scope for a group of individuals to perform well. The Pakistan team has been a good example over the years. Jokes about match fixing aside, they are renowned for being up and down. With the different politics, religious beliefs and factions, the team has often been weak and struggled. But suddenly, out of the blue, they can perform like world beaters, on the back of a few brilliant individual performances.

Where cricket is different from other sports is that team culture and spirit is the most important element of team work. In cricket, the players get to enjoy each others company during the course of a game. While batting, they spend hours in the rooms filling in time. The culture of cricket is important and as evidenced in this Australian side, the strongest teams support each other to the end. As a group they hate losing and they rejoice in the individual successes of their team mates.

Conversely, the performance of the West Indies in the recent series against South Africa gave food for thought. In the case of the West Indies themselves, the food might be rat sack. Three stars, Lara, Gayle and Sarwan missed the first Test over the Cable and Wireless fiasco. In their absence the West Indies had a new captain, new players and they prospered. Chanderpaul, the new captain and Hinds made double hundreds and the West Indies came within a few wickets of victory. Lara and the others returned for the second Test. Lara scored brilliant back to back hundreds in the 2nd and 3rd Tests but the West Indies were annihilated. That says to me that team dynamics are important and complicated, especially in a team like the West Indies, which is made of players of different nationalities, cultures, backgrounds and is dominated by a player who is a genius but could possibly the most ego centric player in world cricket.

Which bring me the to rest of the world team. That same Brian Lara will feature. And did I say something about players from different countries and religions. Hmmm. That is where the rest of the world will struggle. Perhaps players who have traditionally hated each other will be thrown together.

It will be interesting. I certainly intend to attend the Super Test in Sydney. Anyone who is interested in attending a dongles lead cricket outing, please reply to that effect.

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