Sunday, October 16, 2005

Devoid of Meaning

Just like the "Super Series", the Super Test looks like degenerating into an orgy of pointlessness. Hopefully, it will be the death of crass marketing and rampant commercialism. On the face of it, the idea sounded incredibly strong - get the best team in the world playing against the best players in the rest of the world. Who wouldn't be interested?

Fate has a funny way of biting you in the backside, as the ICC have found out to their cost. When the idea was first mooted, no-one seemed to have a cat in hell's chance of beating the Aussies. That all changed this summer, of course - and memorably so. The Ashes series was quite possibly the most intense, and most exciting series of cricket ever played. The Super matches could never live up to that. Besides, the Aussies were no longer so invincible that only an imaginary team could beat them.

Yet aside from simply sporting reasons, the series was doomed to failure in the first place. Many people have tried to create a team, but most have failed. That's because of what the Americans would call "intangibles". Team chemistry takes time to develop - and the truly great teams are better than the sum of their parts. Chelsea didn't win the league at first in the Abramovich era because there was no backbone to the squad. Now that the new English imports have gelled, there is a nucleus to the side, and they are immensely strong. That took time to develop. Simply gathering the best footballers in the world and lumping them under a new badge wasn't going to work, and dooing the same in cricket wouldn't happen either.

The badge, of course, is the reason why the Super games have been such a commercial flop, too. Sport is important to people because it matters to them, and it matters to them because there are accepted forms of discourse with which anyone can identify. The World XI kit just doesn't look right. Whilst Australia are recognisably a Test side, with their baggy green caps and all, the World XI look a hastily assembled side. It doesn't help that they picked the light blue/dark blue piping on the sweater that is ubiquitous amongst club cricketers who don't own a club sweater, admittedly...

In any case, expecting people to rally behind a nebulous concept of a World XI wasn't going to work in the first place, even accounting for the "anyone but Australia" supporters. Sport matters because people identify with the players on "their" team; they feel like they know them. Even the colours that they wear are important, as it implies a sense of continuity, of history, of a tradition that people are consciously buying into. Tradition matters in sport. The commercially successful clubs recognise this; they build their brand up as something that is constant. The ICC do devalue tradition when they count such a gimmicky match as an official Test; it has none of the context of contest that makes Test cricket so powerful. And they are reaping the whirlwind as the world takes a massive yawn at an overhyped contest totally devoid of any meeting.