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Style over substance

Last updated on: August 23, 2005 21:47 IST

The World XI squads for the Johnnie Walker Super Series against Australia were announced on Tuesday, and Australia captain Ricky Ponting was quick to offer his assessment of them. "Impressive line-ups," he declared.

The vim with which the ICC has gone about shortlisting 13 players for the world Test team and 14 for the ODI, from an original list of 30, those line-ups were certainly on expected lines.

It is always difficult to please everyone at the 'best in the business' stuff, but the selection panel may have displeased a few more by erring at the top.

After a long wait, the ICC statement announcing the Test and ODI squads came on the wire services.

Word XI Test squad: Captain -- Graeme Smith. Surprise! Come again. Captain -- Graeme Smith. Oh, come on!

True, Graeme Smith is South Africa's brave captain. But he is also abrasive and outspoken. Now he'll have egos bigger than his to manage.

It is also true that he has provided South Africa solid starts. His Test average of 55.50 is no fluke, but he has played only two Tests against Australia, scoring 114 runs at an average of 28.50, and hasn't led South Africa in a single Test against the Aussies.

More importantly, is he one of the best six or seven batsmen in the world?

Performance against Australia is one criteria the selection panel has shot down. In fact, Smith is yet to make his Test debut in Australia and thus doesn't have figures to suggest he will do well there, considering 'the distinctive characteristics of the venues in Melbourne and Sydney, which will host the games.'

Also, Smith (39 Tests) is the youngest, and after Shoaib Akhtar (36 Tests) the least experienced in the side.

One wonders how he was chosen ahead of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Brian Lara. All these experienced warhorses have a tremendous record against Australia.

Lara's 'antagonism' towards Australia has become a part of cricket folklore; he along with Dravid and Tendulkar average in the healthy 50s against the world champions.

Shaun Pollock, who will lead the ODI squad, may not have so much going against him. He displayed his diligence with bat and ball for more than 10 years. However, when he captained South Africa, he still seemed to be living in Hansie Cronje's shadow.

The positive discrimination selection policy in South Africa let him and the national team down, and by the time the fiasco at the 2003 World Cup happened, Pollock looked more than eager to pass on the captaincy baton. And despite the let downs by the system, the Natal player was never an aggressive captain.

Considering that the World XI will take on Australia in the six-day Super Test in Sydney, the selectors may have wanted more than two spinners (one of whom looks least likely to play) to exploit the conditions.

When the selectors announced the first short-list of 30 players in each side, Sunil Gavaskar, speaking on behalf of the panel, said that they would not indulge in tokenism. Yet, the panel has made sure that the top nine teams have at least a player in the side.

Daniel Vettori thus was selected to both teams. Vettori has been a successful bowler with New Zealand and is a handy bat, but certainly does not count as a big match-winner.

A debate over the wicketkeeper's spot could be a little ambiguous as, barring Australia's Adam Gilchrist, no gloveman can claim to walk into a World eleven.

In Shahid Afridi and Virender Sehwag, the World XI have the most explosive pair in cricket. The selectors have backed their, and the batsmen's, instincts as both batsmen have failed to fire against the tight Australian bowling, especially in the last two years.

Neither of them has scored a hundred against the Aussies. Sehwag's biggest effort (82) came in the 2003 World Cup final and he failed to take his score beyond 40 thereafter.

Afridi has scored only 421 runs from 25 matches at an average of 17.54 against Australia.

Similarly, Shoaib Akhtar, who has missed more matches for Pakistan than he has played, has been included in both the teams. The Pakistani bowler has spent time out of the team due to lack of fitness and team spirit but still was an automatic choice because he brings in the crowds.

The ODI batting line-up of Afridi, Sehwag, Lara, Tendulkar, Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen would also suggest that the selectors have opted for style over substance. These players have the flair that ousted batsmen Rahul Dravid and Inzamam-ul Haq lack.

Barring the captains, the selectors have gone for the most sought-after names, though it is strange how they overlooked Inzamam, who has 10,933 ODI and 7,620 Test runs to his name.

Will the star power be enough to overcome the Australians?

Let us know what you think of the World XI teams.

Have your say

Deepti Patwardhan