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The Scottish football team has long had a reputation for embarrassing results against improbable opponents such as Costa Rica, Iran and San Marino. But in the old days the Scots never minded about those, provided they could win against England.

English cricket supporters feel a bit the same about Australia. Having beaten them in the Champions Trophy semi-final on Tuesday after 14 successive one-day international defeats at their hands over five years, the competition's final seems a bit of an anti-climax.

England are playing the West Indies, the team they have been running ragged all year. There is a danger that the players, who have been playing non-stop for seven months, might switch off mentally.

But though England have beaten them seven times out of eight in Tests this year, the record in one-day cricket is different: the West Indies are actually leading them 4-3. And, though England will start on Saturday morning at The Oval favourites, a great deal could yet go wrong.

The biggest ever post-equinoctial cricket match staged in these latitudes is due to start at 10.15am, when it will be either dewy or plain soggy; winning the toss and fielding first could be decisive. And the West Indies have three brilliant but iffy batsmen Brian Lara, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Chris Gayle who could turn the game single-handed.

But it would be a miserable dribble into autumn if England, who have performed spectacularly this summer, were to fail now. Of the eight senior international teams, they are the only ones never to have won a global tournament. West Indies, Australia, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have all held the World Cup; and South Africa and New Zealand have both won the Champions Trophy. Neither of these tournaments is due back in England until well into the next decade. Indeed, this event has been such a fiasco that some international administrators might want to put that off into the next millennium. And there could be recriminations in the months ahead about why the second-biggest tournament in cricket has been so miserably attended.

The ridiculous timing has been only part of the reason. Quite simply, this so-called mini-World Cup is an ill-conceived event that would benefit enormously from quiet strangulation. It began supposedly as a boon to cricket's developing countries, such as Bangladesh and Kenya, as a means of raising funds to spread the game there.

This altruistic purpose is now being quietly forgotten, and it has become another blob on an overcrowded calendar. The India-Pakistan fixture aside, interest has been low even in Asia; and Australian correspondents were struggling to get space in their papers (it's footy final time) well before their team got knocked out. The International Cricket Council has signed a television deal that forces them to go through it all again in 2006. But even the venue is uncertain and so is the format.

The ICC will not admit it publicly, but privately there is a growing realisation that it was a disaster inviting 12 teams here, when four of them had almost no chance of winning a game. The first eight fixtures of the 15 were all near-walkovers.

But The Oval is sold out on Saturday. If the rain holds off and England win, the complaints might all be drowned out by the happy din.

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