Ian Chappell, the former Australian captain, has questioned the choice of Graeme Smith as captain of the World XI for the one-off Test against Australia at Sydney. Smith has been named captain for the six-day Test, which starts on October 14, but Chappell wasn't convinced about his leadership skills, especially his ability to get the best out of the spinners.
"To beat Australia the opposing captain has to be prepared to attack and use his initiative, as Michael Vaughan so expertly displayed in the recent Ashes series, and on what I have seen so far, this is beyond Smith," Chappell wrote in a column which appeared in Sunday Mid Day, a Mumbai-based tabloid. "What makes Smith a terrific opening batsman is also what holds his captaincy back. He has tunnel vision when he bats and is able to concentrate purely on what he does well. However, he employs this same narrow vision to his captaincy and appears to lack imagination.
"Traditionally South African captains lack understanding when it comes to the value of spin bowlers. They tend to rely heavily on fast and seam bowlers especially when the match is tight. At the SCG spin bowling could play a big part in deciding the Super Series Test and the World XI have a destructive pair in Muttiah Muralitharan and Vettori. However, both need to be employed as attacking weapons against Australia, not just as run-stoppers."
Chappell confessed that he was particularly impressed by the manner in which Stephen Fleming had used Vettori, especially against Australia. "There are currently few leaders who understand the value of attacking with spinners against a strong batting line-up, and New Zealand's Fleming is one such skipper. Under Fleming, Vettori has had great success against a dominant Australian batting line-up. Fleming is even better qualified in this aspect of captaincy than England's successful skipper, as Vaughan's only experience so far revolves around using Ashley Giles in a mainly defensive role."
Chappell scoffed at the suggestion that neither Vaughan nor Fleming merited a place in the XI, arguing that a strong captain will add far more value to a team already brimming with talent. "Picking a team is about selecting the right combination, not just gathering the best players. Without the right captain the World XI is vulnerable against an Australian side that will be hell-bent on revenge after losing the Ashes.
"A bunch of talented individuals not representing their country are going to be hard pushed to beat a skilful team playing under their own nation's colours. Unless the conglomerate has a strong leader who instills a sense of unity and a desperation to win, the team representing their country is always favoured.
Chappell even suggested that it was far more vital to get the right leader than to ensure that the two best openers went out to face the new ball against Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee. "The World XI would have been a stronger side with Vaughan or Fleming opening in place of Smith. There is little difference in actual batting skill, especially when you consider Vaughan's highly successful last tour of Australia as an opener. I'll bet the Australians, smarting after their defeat in England, are quietly relieved they won't have to face a talented bowling line-up under the wily direction of either Fleming or Vaughan."
Arthur said: "It is common knowledge that visiting captains are targeted when they play Australia. Graeme is not just the World Team's captain, but also the captain of the South African team to tour there later this year.
Mickey Arthur, South Africa's coach, suggested that Chappell's remarks were made with one eye on the upcoming series against Australia. "I do not think anyone is surprised that Graeme is being targeted by the Aussies," he said, speaking to South Africa's News24 website. "In any case, I can not see how he (Chappell) has seen enough of Graeme to come to such a conclusion. Graeme is one of the best captains in cricket and I am confident that he will do well in Australia."
Smith, too, preferred to see Chappell's comments as part of Australian dirty tricks before the start of the Test, saying: "The psychological warfare forms part of their arsenal."