Cricket: Chance for ton-up Smith to tick another box
Graeme Smith has a reputation as rather a brash buffalo, but quite the opposite is true. Yet, since he would have led his country in 100 Tests when South Africa and Pakistan lock horns at Newlands on Thursday, a little arrogance would be perfectly appropriate. By ANT SIMS.
Whenever Graeme Smith is confronted with the multiple accolades bestowed on him over the last few years, he seems to shy away from the limelight, shrugging off the attention that follows him.
When he stepped out for the press conference ahead of his 100th Test as South African captain – and with one of those Tests having been at the helm of the World XI – he was astute and considered. A lot of noise has been made about the milestone, but while Smith does recognise it as a highlight, he seems unable to process the endless fuss.
"I don't know, to be honest with you," he said, when asked how he reflected on the praise.
"It's something I deal with on an ongoing basis. The more accolades, the more expectations on your own performances. Before the last Test, I woke up at four in the morning, dreaming I'd gotten a pair, and I had to deal with those emotions on day one," Smith joked.
"I've tried to make sure I prepared as well as I have for every other game, and I haven't taken anything for granted. When I get the chance to sit back, I try to enjoy everything that's happened. It's really been amazing and I don't want to shy away from it; it's definitely something which will go down as the highlight of my career."
For a man who was thrown into the very deep end at the age of 22, and who has 48 Test wins under his belt along with 26 draws and 26 losses, one could reasonably expect a certain level of rudeness. Yet Smith always has time for everyone in a press conference, and no matter how mundane or clichéd the question, the South African skipper gives a considered answer. Even when he is confronted with a question like what the players discuss in the dressing room, Smith remains polite. When he was quizzed about a Tweet put out by Vernon Philander stating that the death penalty should be brought back, the skipper didn’t flinch.
"We're grown men; we have opinions on life. Vernon will have to discuss his opinion with you. There's been so much campaigning about rape and murder in South Africa, and as role models we want to be part of putting it right. Vern will have to share his opinion with you, but we're all aware of our responsibility,” Smith said calmly.
Despite the frequent misconception that Smith is rude, arrogant and generally unpleasant, quite the opposite is true of the skipper – and the achievement of playing 100 Tests for his country really does mean a lot to him.
Playing it at Newlands is even more special for Smith, who started his career in Cape Town. He has only kind words for the crowd that usually turns out en masse at the picturesque venue.
"This 100th Test as captain certainly means the most to me, and to be able to achieve a milestone in these colours is important to me. Also, coming to Newlands is our marquee Test ground in South Africa, and the fans always make it special. We've done so well here. To come and achieve a milestone at this ground is something I'm really looking forward to,” Smith said.
Newlands has become a fortress of sorts for South Africa over the last few years. It’s one of those Test grounds which has a special buzz about it, and South Africa hasn’t lost a Test here since 2006. In the last two seasons, they have twice dismissed teams for sub 50. The South African juggernaut now has a chance to tick another box in its ever-expanding list of achievements.
Should they win the Test at Newlands against Pakistan, it would be the five Test wins in a row - the first time in Smith’s career as skipper that it’s happened.
The skipper believes the side has proven its maturity over the last few months, and that the challenge is now not to hit a plateau.
"I think we've been very solid for a length of time now and the challenge is always to keep maintaining that performance now that we've been playing so well. We're playing against opposition that's good and who can put in good performances, and you need to respect that. For us, every Test we have to keep meeting those expectations." DM
Photo: South Africa's Graeme Smith plays a shot during the second day of their first cricket test match against Pakistan in Johannesburg, February 2, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings