A parody of passion
Let's start this story with the moral: you can get the best of the world together, but you can't make them the best team in the world. It takes more than talent to forge a team, and on most occasions, it takes a team to win a cricket match. Trust comes from playing together, and from trust comes confidence; the World XI had 12 matchwinners, yet for the second successive game, they were a poor match for an Australian team in the rebuild mode.
From the first ball bowled in this series, it has been clear that Australia have been desperate to win because this trophy, for all its artificial flavour, has meant more to them. Personal pride aside, and pride is a strong motivator, it is difficult to imagine how 14 players, some of them bitter rivals, some who will fly away from here to compete against each other, could have summoned a unity of purpose greater than a team fighting to regain honour.
The passage of play between the 17th and 24th overs of the World XI was the perfect demonstration of why Australia were a team and the World XI a mere assembly of talent. With lovely expression of individual flair, Chris Gayle and Kumar Sangakkara, had flayed the Australian bowlers and forced Ricky Ponting to scatter the field after ten overs. After 16 overs, the World XI were scoring at more than seven an over, and Gayle and Sangakkara had preferred to hit over the top rather than relying on running between the wickets. Gayle was dismissed on the first ball of the 17th over and the innings disintegrated because the boundaries stopped coming and World XI batsmen were exposed as faithless and bumbling runners.
None was guiltier than Jacques Kallis who could neither hit over the top when the power play was on nor inspire any confidence with his running. He occupied the crease painfully for eight overs, scored 11 from 25 balls, ran out Sangakkara who was stroking the ball like a dream, before running himself out too. From 125 for 2 in 16 overs, the World XI slumped to 157 for 5 in the 24th and there was no getting back from there. It would have been too much to expect Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen to repeat their Ashes heroics for a cause as manufactured as this. They looked tired, exhausted and spent. Their lack of passion showed.
Australia were awesome when they batted, and more then adequate on the field despite bowling with only one of their regular bowlers. Brett Lee was hit for 21 runs in one over, which included the most spectacular shot of the day from Gayle - a back-foot hit over cover for six - but he bowled with menace and fire and removed Virender Sehwag with a snorter. But the day belonged to Adam Gilchrist.
Gilchrist's was an innings of renewal and reaffirmation. Absence of runs from him was one of the major surprises during the Ashes. Bowlers have tried for years to tie him down from round the wicket, but by executing the plan to perfection, Flintoff had made him not only look mortal, but even ordinary. Back on his home soil and with Flintoff operating within an unfamiliar attack on pitches unresponsive to seam movement, Gilchrist conquered his tormentor in grand manner. He sent the first ball he received from Flintoff scorching past point for four and was soon stepping down to drive him to long-on. In all, he scored 20 runs from him in 10 balls and forced Flintoff off the attack after four expensive overs that cost 33.
Also, his presence on the pitch denied the spinners the luxury of settling down. Murali, who is never keen on bowling in the first 15 overs, was introduced in the 12th and Gilchrist swept him for a huge six in his second over midwicket and repeated the treatment against Daniel Vettori. Two days ago, the spinners had kept the match alive for the World XI by claiming six wickets for 74. Today they went for 97 and managed one wicket.
The day before the series Ponting was booed by a small crowd when he walked on to the field during the unveiling ceremony. Today, he and his team-mates were hailed as heroes once again. After all, they have just conquered the world, and it has been a cinch. Now, if beating England was half as easy.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo