Graeme Smith needs no reminder about the potency of Mitchell Johnson. The Proteas Test captain twice had his hand shattered by the Australian left-arm paceman within a period of eight weeks, prompting Smith to wear older-style batting gloves with extra protection to avoid suffering a broken bone for the third time at the hands of Johnson.
It has been a gladiatorial battle whenever these two men have met in the middle, but unlike the feeble English who have withered under Johnson’s onslaught in the recent Ashes, South Africa’s leader famously showed great courage by coming out to bat with that broken hand in the New Year’s Test at Sydney in January 2009 in a valiant attempt to avert defeat.
They have both enjoyed their moments in the sun, and with Johnson revving it up again Down Under, and the Aussies full of brash talk about their attack, another collosal contest could be on the cards when Michael Clarke’s team arrive in South Africa next month for the three-match series.
“I don’t think our guys feel the need to get involved (in the talk). I think as a team we are settled and have a clear idea to what we want to achieve. We’ve become used to the hype. It’s what happens when you are a high-performing team and involved in a series against England and Australia,” Smith said.
“We’ve all faced him. When Mitch is bowling well, he is a high-class bowler. I don’t see him being any different.
“They are obviously confident with what they are saying. The fact that they are playing well probably adds a certain intensity to the series which gets the media and public looking forward to the series.”
The Proteas, under Smith’s leadership, have certainly crushed the aura of invincibility the Aussies once had over South African teams of previous generations due to consecutive away Test series wins Down Under.
However, the fact remains that the Proteas have yet to beat the Baggy Greens in a Test series on home soil since Ali Bacher’s side famously destroyed “Bill’s (Lawry) team” 4-0 back in 1970.
“Having gone there twice and won, I don’t think we will be as desperate to win as in previous times. We look at it as another important series for us as the No 1 team in the world to continue the legacy we are building. We know Australia are chasing us, and we view it as another great opportunity to put a peg in the ground,” the skipper explained.
Without discounting the chance to make history, Smith stressed the fact that his team need to hit the ground running, cognisant of his team’s slow starts in preceding series.
The Proteas lost the first Test to Pakistan last year before drawing level in the following Test, and were made to battle for a draw against India at the Wanderers prior to clinching the series 1-0 at Kingsmead.
“The challenge for us is to get ourselves ready. We’ve had a stop-start season in terms of Test cricket. I think if we had played another Test series immediately after the second Test against India, we would have been close to our best.
“It is always difficult to hit your peak from the get-go. We will put in good preparation time ahead of the first Test. With us playing Twenty20 cricket at the moment, we’ll probably convene eight-to-10 days before the time.”
Meanwhile, Dale Steyn has been given an extended period of rest to recover from a small undisplaced fracture to his right 8th rib sustained during the second Test against India.
The recovery period will be between three to four weeks, and should have no effect on his availability for the Australian series, but Steyn will no longer be available for the Cape Cobras in the current Ram Slam T20 competition.
February 12, First Test, 10.30am, Centurion
February 20, Second Test, 10.30am, Port Elizabeth
March 1, Third Test, 10.30am, Cape Town
March 9, First T20, 2.30pm, Port Elizabeth
March 12, Second T20, 6pm, Durban
March 14, Third T20, 6pm, Centurion - Cape Times