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Smith is no spent force

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Proteas Test captain Graeme Smith.

FOR a man who has scored close on 15 500 international runs, Graeme Smith takes an awful lot of flack from Proteas “fans”.

Every Smith failure is used as a stick to beat the Test captain on the social networks and websites. It would not be surprising then that Smith walks a little lighter on overseas shores, where he’s revered, not only for his amazing batting record, but also his status as the most experienced active Test captain.

Smith’s detractors also seem to be unable to distinguish between the different formats of the game. The anti-Smith campaign reached its zenith after the World Cup defeat to New Zealand last year and has continued apace ever since.

But while it is a well known fact that the big left-hander has fallen on lean times in one-day and Twenty20 cricket, these woes have done nothing to diminish his Test match aura.

Opposition bowlers still fear Smith’s hulking frame that brings down his heavy blade across his pads to routinely work the ball through the leg side.

Smith’s record in the white flannels in the current Test season also pours cold water on the theory that his best days are behind him. Two centuries this season, a match-winning second innings effort at Newlands against Australia in the first Test of the summer, and another equally important ton in Dunedin against New Zealand on Friday proves different. In all, Smith has scored 471 runs thus far at 52.33.

The first Test against the Kiwis may not quite be won , but Smith’s 115 in a 200-run partnership with Jacques Kallis (113) certainly set the wheels in motion after a couple of scrappy days.

South Africa have never lost a Test when Smith has scored a century. Sixteen of his previous 23 Test centuries paved the way to victory, while seven were draws. It’s likely that Friday’s 24th will increase this statistic to 17 wins.

Smith’s 115 was not the most eye-pleasing innings, but then again, they seldom are. Yet it illustrated all the qualities that make the skipper the Test warrior he is. Smith showed patience, most importantly outside the off-stump, where he left well, and courage to overcome a sore forearm that had caused him pain for the past two weeks since being hit by Morné Morkel at training ahead of the first ODI in Wellington.

“It (the century) went against the way that Graeme plays as well, so the way that he stuck it out and gutsed it out, and getting that partnership to go as long and as big as it did, I think it will go a long way for him as a player. The skipper will have learnt a lot from it,” Kallis said of Smith’s five-hour vigil.

It is clear then that his good mate Kallis certainly appreciated it, and this is probably what Smith should take from this innings more than anything else.

As long as his team-mates continue to admire his contributions and respect him within the confines of the dressing room, the heckles in reality mean nothing.

Public affection does, however, mean a lot to Smith, and it’s probably understandable considering he has been at the coalface of South African cricket since being appointed captain at the tender age of 23.

He spoke of this after the Newlands century.

“There are obviously one or two things that hurt a lot. There were a few things that were very personal and maybe crossed the line over that period of time, but that’s the nature of the job, I think. Hopefully I’ve won a few people over. It still means a hell of a lot for me to play for South Africa, to be able to bat under pressure like that and to score a hundred,” Smith said.

At 31, Smith is by no means a spent force. Since relinquishing the one-day and T20 leadership reins, he has been re-invigorated to get his Test batting average above 50, where it was for so long. Smith is also on the cusp of leading the Proteas to the top of the Test pile – an achievement he has long sought after missing out against Australia at home in 2008/09.

It seems then that the best years of Graeme Craig Smith may still be ahead of him. – Weekend Argus


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