| World XI chairman of selectors Sunil Gavaskar and Andrew Flintoff during a training session in Sydney on Thursday. (AP)
Sydney: Dennis Lillee has strong views about Ricky Ponting’s leadership, but the Australian captain is smart. The heat, clearly, is well and truly being felt by the World XI even before the first-ever officially sanctioned Super Test gets underway at the rather romantic SCG.
In any case, the 0-3 scoreline in the Johnnie Walker Super Series-launching ODIs, in Melbourne, hasn’t earned the World XI any admirers. Even coach John Wright questioned his wards’ commitment.
“Merely looking at the quality of the players, the World XI start favourites,” Ponting declared at a pre-Test interaction on Thursday afternoon. He did add: “Of course, we have the players to challenge them,” but the quality-bit added the weight of the Harbour Bridge to the visitors’ pressures.
Poor Graeme Smith.
First, the Ian Chappells criticised his selection as the World XI Test captain. Then, according to The Telegraph’s sources, others on the thinktank left it to him alone to determine who must sit out.
Shoaib Akhtar is under the weather (“I think I’m down with a viral”) and out of reckoning. So, from the remaining XII, Smith may have to choose between compatriot Shaun Pollock and a specialist batsman. Being a six-day affair, both specialist spinners ' Muttiah Muralidharan and Daniel Vettori ' should play.
It’s going to be his toughest call.
“There could be a controversy over somebody’s exclusion, which is why the captain has been advised to pick the XI he will be most comfortable with,” one of the sources pointed out.
One expects Smith to have a sleepless night.
He has, by the way, accepted that getting the best out of those he doesn’t know well at all is his “greatest challenge.”
“A team can’t be built overnight and I’m not here to make things rosy... We’ve got to start with the belief that we’re equals and can beat Australia... But, yes, one can’t have a national team environment and the passion can’t be similar... Whatever, I’m looking for a hundred per cent effort and intensity,” Smith said.
The odds really are against Smith: He even has to worry about the fields that ought to be set for Murali and Vettori ' after all, he isn’t used to handling such high quality spinners.
Also, there’s a question mark over gloveman Mark Boucher’s ability to ‘pick’ Murali. Kumar Sangakkara did duty in the ODIs, but he’s home now.
On paper, the World XI is formidable with a capital F, but it’s unlikely that the Super Test’s outcome is going to be influenced by the odd spark of brilliance or one innovative move. Plus, the six-day factor can’t be discounted, even though rain may curtail play on Days 1 and 2 (dedicated to raising funds for Asia’s earthquake victims).
Incidentally, the last scheduled six-day Test was way back in 1977-78, featuring England and New Zealand in Auckland. Even that many days couldn’t produce a decisive result. More unique is that only once before (in 2003-04) has the SCG hosted a Test in October.
“I don’t think the strategies will change because of the additional day... However, one has to bat longer... The extra day, I assume, is to eliminate a stalemate,” Ponting remarked. What he didn’t highlight is that the spinners are expected to have a bigger than traditional role to play.
Despite being delighted with the wins in Melbourne, Ponting acknowledged that “too much” can’t be taken out of a series when it’s switch-over time from one form to the other.
“Every game is an opportunity to improve... There were big moments in the (recent) Ashes when we let ourselves down... The areas which needed to be addressed, have been... There wasn’t anything wrong with the individual preparations, we were just a bit off team-wise,” he observed.
Perfectly understandably, Ponting declined to speak at length about his counterpart: “I don’t know him well enough and it’s hard to sit in judgement. He enjoys the respect of the South African players and I’m sure it’s going to be the same in the World XI dressing room.”
The Indians in the Super Series, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag, were far from super in Melbourne. Perhaps, the SCG will inspire ' 21 months ago, Dravid had an unbeaten 91 in his last Test innings here. Sehwag has already promised to “score big.”
If he and the rest fire, that can be more ammunition for Lillee.
AUSTRALIA: Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Simon Katich, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Watson, Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath, Stuart MacGill.
WORLD XI (from): Graeme Smith, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Brian Lara, Jacques Kallis, Inzamam-ul Haq, Andrew Flintoff, Mark Boucher, Daniel Vettori, Muttiah Muralidharan, Steve Harmison, Shaun Pollock.
Umpires: Rudi Koertzen, Simon Taufel. TV: Darrel Hair.
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle.