'I am leading the team and making the decisions'
Graeme Smith, captain of the ICC World Test XI, has said that the appointment came as a surprise to him but refused to react to suggestions from former cricketers that he was the wrong man for the job.
Smith, who arrived in Melbourne Sunday morning, along with three other members of the Test squad, said he had grown into his job as South African captain and was feeling comfortable with himself. "Two years down the line, I reckon I have made a few mistakes but also I've learnt a hell of a lot in the last two years. I am very comfortable with who I am and confident in myself as captain."
When his attention was drawn to criticism, most vocally from Ian Chappell, about his style of captaincy, Smith said everyone was entitled to their opinion. "I've been given the opportunity and it's my job to do it. That's all that counts for me."
But when asked if the decision to appoint him as World XI captain had come as a surprise, Smith replied in the affirmative. "Three or four years in the international game, two years as captain, it did come as a surprise, but I am looking forward to it."
Smith said he was looking forward to having two top-class spinners at his disposal. Both Muttiah Muralitharan and Daniel Vettori are expected to make it the 11 at Sydney where the pitch is traditionally suited to spin bowling. "It's going to be a nice challenge for me," Smith said, "It's different option from what we're used to, but it will be nice to have it."
He said he was not too concerned about handling big egos in a star-studded team in which he was one of the youngest players. "It would be stupid of me not to use the players around me, communication is an important part of my captaincy. I will obviously communicate with the other players, there are other captains and guys who have captained in the past. It's important for me to use them but ultimately at the end of the day, I am leading the team and I am making the decisions and it is my job to round up all the information and I've been given that job and I will do it."
Inevitably, the question of sledging came up. On his debut series against Australia in 2001-02, Smith had gone to town complaining about choice language from the Australians on the field. "I am looking forward to it," Smith said with a smile, "I love the intensity at this level. I play the game the same way, I play the game hard and I don't think there will be anything held back."
Was there any backlash after he chose to complain publicly? "I don't think I was on their Christmas card list for a while," Smith said, "I have played against them a few times and it wouldn't have been different whether I kept quiet or not.
"I expect it to be very competitive. I am prepared for it."
Smith admitted that he had not realised there were was so much money at stake in the Super Series. "Money is always a driving force but I think the guys want to do well especially after these one-dayers. They want to turn it around."
He said he was aware of the difficulties in captaining a World XI team for one Test. "I am not going to try to build a team," he said, "It's about getting the roles right, getting the intensity right and when guys have got a bat or ball in hand they're at the right level they need to be."