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London – Graeme Smith will play his 100th Test at The Oval tomorrow – actually it’s his 99th for South Africa but, because the ICC accorded the World XI match against Australia 2005 Test status, Smith reaches the magical figure now.
It’s a remarkable achievement given everything he’s gone through – being the youngest player to be appointed to the job, and many observers’ initial misgivings about his readiness for the position.
He remains a character who divides opinion in South Africa, but one look at the respect he garners among the media here in England, and among fans in India and Australia, tells of how much he is admired elsewhere.
Jacques Kallis, one of his closest friends in the side, yesterday described the pending 100th Test cap as a special occasion and one which would hopefully inspire the South African team. “We as a team are hoping to play some good cricket and make it worthy of a 100th Test match, he deserves that,” said Kallis, who is one of five South Africans who have hitherto played 100 Tests.
“He’s been captain for most of them, which has been an incredible effort. He’s contributed massively to South African cricket and at times he’s been criticised unfairly.”
Graeme Smith’s five most memorable Tests:
Very much still viewed as a boy in a man’s world and with everyone still questioning his rights to the captaincy, the then 22-year-old produced a brutal display to make what is still the highest score by a non-Englishman at Lord’s. It was a typically powerful knock from Smith that realised 259 runs and provided the foundation for a thumping innings and 92-run victory.
Arguably the best fourth innings knock ever played. Smith made an unbeaten 154, carrying his side to a target of 280. Smith describes himself as being the calmest he’s ever been in that knock, efficiently playing Monty Panesar out of the rough even as he was turning it square while Andrew Flintoff was getting the ball to come out of the “darkness”. Given what the knock meant, it must be in the top three Test innings ever played by a South African.
v West Indies
Not so much the runs he scored but the way he did it, producing another sterling effort in the final innings of the match. In a toughly contested Test, the West Indies had given themselves a sniff by setting South Africa one of those tricky targets, on this occasion 184. Where most batting sides would adopt caution, looking to keep wickets in hand initially before accelerating, Smith set about the target in a belligerent fashion, muscling 85 from 79 balls and helping to get South Africa to the target in the 36th over.
Set 414 to win, there was Smith, with his elbow playing havoc, trying to give the side a solid start. He played carefully but still scored quickly. It was his first Test 100 against Australia – the second came in that extraordinary Test at Cape Town last year – providing the foundation upon which AB de Villiers and JP Duminy gloriously built victory.
Until the World Cup last year when he didn’t come home after the tournament, Smith had very much gained the affections of the South African public following his courageous attempts to save the final Test despite South Africa having already won the series. With his elbow still dodgy after blood injections and the finger on his right hand broken in the first innings, Smith hung on for 17 balls, made three runs, and took his side within 10 balls of saving the match.