Sport

Smith: Now that’s cricket

By Ant Sims 15 January 2013

Crushing your opposition by an innings in two consecutive Test matches is pretty good going. Even if the side you’re playing against is ranked way below you. Graeme Smith has got a really good thing on his hands, but the skipper knows that glory won’t come easily. By ANT SIMS.

Graeme Smith has it pretty good at the moment. He’s in charge of a Test team that hasn’t lost in 12 matches, and he’s just wrapped up a whopping series victory on home soil (even if it was against some rather average opposition).

For Smith, one of the most positive aspects of the series was the fact that South Africa never rested on its laurels. Even against opposition they could have beaten on one leg with hands tied behind their backs, they never let their aggression rest. 

“I think we’ve outplayed them in all aspects comprehensively, and we’ve been really professional,” Smith said. “Barring a few catches in Cape Town, we’ve played a high standard of Test cricket. 

“Every headline you looked at spoke about complacency and whether we’d be up for performing – and we showed that we were professional and hungry to do well. After two big series away from home, it would have been easy to just idle along, but we didn’t do that.” 

None of the players were coasting, and this never-say-die, team-oriented attitude was one of the big positives for the skipper. 

“It’s a relentless thing where people can back each other up. Guys creating pressure all day and bowling with intensity all the time is a very good thing for us,” Smith said.

South Africa has also shown that it has players that can plug the gaps if some of the stalwarts get injured, believes Smith. With Vernon Philander missing out in the second Test due to injury, Rory Kleinveldt fulfilled his role with precision.

“For Rory (Kleinveldt) to come in and step up for Vernon (Philander) was huge for us. The depth is a good thing. Injuries will happen; we hope that they don’t, but it’s the nature of sport and it’s important that we have a good base of guys to step in when they need to,” the skipper explained.

Smith’s side has built up quite a reputation as a bunch of road warriors. While they have in the past struggled to win on home turf, they haven’t lost away from home since 2006. They beat Sri Lanka in South Africa last year and in 2012 they beat England and Australia away from home. It’s a remarkable feat for any side, and now, their home record is slowly being rebuilt.

They hadn’t played a Test in Port Elizabeth for six years, but they lost the last three Tests played there and for Smith, returning to the ground and winning in such emphatic fashion was another step in the right direction.

“It’s good to know that the guys have pride in their performance and want to keep on pushing forward. It’s also nice to be back at home after a year on the road, and to come back to a ground where we haven’t had much success in the past. To win so well was important for us,” Smith said.

Smith took charge of the Test side as a 22-year-old and he has seen it all. In his tenure, he has been incredibly successful. The current squad is being trumpeted as one of the best sides in Test cricket.

Smith credits the unity in the side, as well as the coaching staff and the work behind the scenes, for the heights the Proteas have reached. It’s taken a while and a few changes, but South Africa has climbed to the top of the Test rankings and is performing accordingly. The skipper refuses to say that the current team is or isn’t the best he has ever worked with, but he does know that there is something special about the current mix of players.

“When you’ve been captaining for a decade it’s hard to remember everything. I sort of try to put the bad stuff behind me. Everything is a stepping stone to the next thing; we had to build and go through phases to get to where we are today. We’ve got great personnel and we’ve come together really well as a team.

“One of our strengths is our unity, the way we get on, and the way we play for each other. I don’t want to be comparing teams to other teams. Teams have all been successful in their own rights since readmission. I do think that this team has the opportunity to create something special and be a part of something special,” Smith said.

And special they can be. While South African fans will coo over the possibility of their side becoming The Invincibles, the Proteas still have some way to go to earn such a lofty title. They now need to shift gears and switch to the shorter format of the game for a three-match ODI series against New Zealand before welcoming Pakistan for a three-match Test series. 

If South Africa can crush Pakistan as comprehensively as they have done to New Zealand, then they’re very much on course to becoming one of the most revered teams around. DM

Photo: South Africa’s Robin Petersen (L) and Graeme Smith (R) celebrate the wicket of New Zealand’s Kane Williamson (not in picture) on day three of the second cricket test match in Port Elizabeth, January 13, 2013. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

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