World XI finally step up

Cricket Australia's current advertising campaign is "Long Live Cricket", but the stunning quality of bowling has made the Super Test a short affair. Unless rain intervenes, as it threatened to throughout the afternoon, the match will end on day four; unless the World XI can upturn a wretched two weeks of batting Australia will celebrate more global dominance.

However, the expected local display of shot-making to force the visitors out of the contest did not materialise as Muttiah Muralitharan and Andrew Flintoff matched the brilliance of Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill the previous day, giving their all-star team-mates an outside chance of victory. The target of 355 was cut by 25 at stumps and the World XI have eight wickets remaining to pursue an unlikely victory. They were lucky it was not closer to 500.

Australia control the match but they have future problems to solve after their last nine batsmen were demolished for 47. While the World XI approach their final chance for redemption, their opponents' middle-order is again under scrutiny after Simon Katich and Shane Watson failed in their auditions for more permanent positions this summer.

Flintoff will not be the only person relieved to be heading home this week, and the Australians will be tempted to use border security to make sure he is not seen until the 2006-07 Ashes. Flintoff bowled in tandem with Muralitharan for all 17 overs between lunch and tea and the combination clouded the minds of the batsmen and downgraded the World XI's task from impossible to improbable. Losing 5 for 30 in the session, Australia suffered Ashes d j vu as Flintoff, who gave up 14 runs in eight overs and took three wickets, joined Muralitharan in the type of demanding and gripping display promised by the Super Series concept.

The pair brightened a gloomy and abbreviated day that was more like the duo's Lancashire home ground at Old Trafford. Flintoff swung and seamed the ball at his fastest pace of the series and Muralitharan, bowling from the Paddington End, clicked his fingers and the innings turned in seven balls.

Mark Boucher moved to Muralitharan like he was learning to dance, going right when it should have been left. Katich was in a similar trance. An easy missed stumping was followed by Muralitharan tricking Katich into chipping him a catch in what he described as "a brilliant over". Admitting he was "pumped up", Muralitharan forced an edge from Gilchrist and when Flintoff pushed through Watson and Warne Australia had dropped to a total of 199.

Australia's plans for a massive lead had been stifled and only Watson reached double figures after the half-centuries of Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting. Clarke, Katich and Gilchrist were bumped up a place by Damien Martyn's dropping and only Gilchrist has justified the promotion. Clarke is destined for great things but steps up the order have come quickly and the difficult balance between vibrancy and responsibility is yet to be struck. The time available to Katich is not as generous and Watson's place as an allrounder remains a match-by match prospect.

The batting instability was quickly replaced by more bowling dominance as Glenn McGrath hit Smith's stumps during his only over before worsening light forced the ball to the spinners. MacGill spun Virender Sehwag out and the players - and the lights - finally went off. More danger lurks for the batsmen on day four and only some dormant magic will loosen the ball's grip on the Test.