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The spark is still missing

After an embarrassing week in Melbourne, when the World XI were left defending their status as a collection of the best players from around the globe, the Super Series concept was given a dose of respectability on a closely fought opening day at the SCG. However, there was still that missing spark that comes from matches between actual Test nations and as hard as the various parties are trying that can't be manufactured.

The overriding conclusion from these matches - whatever the result of this Test - is that a team can't be built overnight from a collection of talented stars. Ahead of the Test, Graeme Smith said that he was not going to try and build a team spirit that would normally take a national side two or three years of international ups and downs to create. Instead he was going to rely on the individual brilliance - that same brilliance that collectively imploded during the one-day matches - to give Australia a challenge in Sydney.

Despite all the talk of pride and motivation from the World XI, they still can't match what Australia have to play for over the six days. Therefore, it would have been to the benefit of this game for the World XI to have batted first with a line-up that has Test century makers down to No. 9. As it was, when Smith lost the toss, Muttiah Muralitharan and Daniel Vettori were forced into the same position as Shane Warne during the Ashes of having to bowl on the first day.

However, the opening exchanges did give Smith's team of individuals plenty of encouragement. In the build-up, Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff had said it is time to move on from the Ashes - a great, never mind super series - but the opening moments of the day could have been right back at Lord's on July 21. Harmison tore into Justin Langer, flooring him with a second ball yorker before flattening his off stump with the third ball. The Australian fans still making their way across Moore Park towards the SCG had to pinch themselves to make sure they weren't in the middle of a recurring nightmare.

As delighted as Ricky Ponting was to have won the toss, facing the fourth ball of the match was not in his game plan. But, following the two fired-up bursts from Harmison and Flintoff, Smith needed another testing burst of pace against Ponting and Hayden, both still struggling to settle.

Instead he had to turn to Jacques Kallis and some floaty outswingers, which allowed the batsmen to escape with the occasional waft and stretch onto the front foot. Last winter against England, Kallis was a reluctant bowler at best - now he was the first change in the World XI. He emphasised later in the day that it was clearly not his bowling that contributed most of the votes in him being named the joint Player of the Year at the ICC Awards on Tuesday.

With the bowling attack pushed to the limits by Hayden and a rejuvenated Adam Gilchrist, the World XI kept their heads above water by nabbing a wicket each time the game was getting away from them. Muralitharan and Vettori were attacked by the batsmen, who were aware that nullifying this threat would leave Smith with real problems. But great bowlers still find ways of breaking through and Muralitharan continued to twirl away, being rewarded with Hayden and Shane Watson - the latter completing a busy day for the third umpire.

The World XI came out on top as far as the TV referrals were concerned today. Simon Katich's run out was conventional - other than the tangle with Muralitharan - and Watson was confirmed lbw by Darrell Hair. Michael Clarke's bat-pad catch was also sent upstairs, but after Hair gained no advantage from the TV pictures it was left to Rudi Koertzen to go with his gut feeling. All the factors about these decisions are being evaluated throughout the Super Series but these matches need to be remembered for the actual cricket - and not the technology - if the Super Series is to have a future.

With the entire duration of a proper Test match remaining, this game can still develop into a worthwhile contest if Smith, Lara and co. fire with the bat. Hayden and Gilchrist's batting was determined and flamboyant respectively, but the credibility of this experiment is all about the performance of the World.