World leader Smith can rise to challenge

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The Independent Online

Rust, carelessness, burliness and the other hindrances seen from all save the Sri Lankans and the sole Kiwi ought to have been dispersed. Graeme Smith's side might even take the spoils.

Smith - young, gung-ho and inexperienced in handling spinners - was a controversial choice as captain. Doubtless the selectors recognised that he was worth his place in the side and had met every leadership challenge put in his path at Somerset or South Africa. In both cases he has scored runs and convinced colleagues that he was worth following.

Moreover, the weaknesses detected in his side at Telstra's notoriously chilly dome, namely slow running between wickets, lazy fielding and feeble pace bowling, will not matter as much. A powerful batting order will have time to settle.

No batting order including Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Brian Lara and Jacques Kallis will be underestimated by any Australian. Sehwag has batted brilliantly against these opponents, and always with a gleam in his eye. Dravid is an unusual blend of sense and sensibility. He bats in hours, not minutes but watches every ball like a sceptical jeweller. Kallis has turned from attacking youth to calculating adulthood and proceeds with measured mastery. Lara is mercurial: aroused, he can soar; dulled, he looks like a displeased kitten.

Smith himself has scored plenty of runs. Inzamam-ul-Haq may add his weight to the batting. Miffed at his original omission, he was inclined to reject the invitation to replace Sachin Tendulkar until friends talked him around. It will take a brave man to omit him tomorrow morning.

Andrew Flintoff could find himself batting at No 7 and opening the bowling with Steve Harmison. However he must manage without the Duke balls that encourage reverse swing.

Hitherto the pace attack has wilted in the face of confident, aggressive batting.Not that Smith will depend much on his faster bowlers. Although Sydney is no longer as flaky as in the 1980s, it still favours spin. Moreover the Sydney Swans Australian Rules football team were until very recently charging all over the park, kicking and punching and occasionally also paying some attention to the ball. The groundsman has had little time to prepare a pitch.

Accordingly the World XI will rely upon New Zealand's Daniel Vettori and the Sri Lankan Muttiah Muralitharan to take wickets. Likewise both Australian leg-spinners will play in a revamped side, with Shane Watson serving as third seamer behind Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee.

Reprieved by his hundred at the Oval in the final Ashes Test, Matthew Hayden remains in the spotlight, while a refreshed Adam Gilchrist is expected to bat at No 6. It is going to be a proper match and might be fun to watch.

Teams: Australia (from): M L Hayden, J L Langer, *R T Ponting, B J Hodge, M J Clarke, S M Katich, ÝA Gilchrist, S R Watson, B Lee, S K Warne, G D McGrath, S C G MacGill.

World XI (from): *G C Smith, V Sehwag, R Dravid, B C Lara, Inzamam Ul-Haq, J H Kallis, A Flintoff, S M Pollock, ÝM V Boucher, S J Harmison, Shoaib Akhtar, M Muralitharan, D L Vettori.