There are enough challenges to be found in the opposition bowling and from South African pitches for Graeme Smith’s South African team not to become distracted by the administrative shenanigans that have wracked the sport recently.
While Smith expressed hope that the sport’s administrators would “make decisions that are in the best interests of the game”, his true feelings about the rumpus in world cricket, which will effectively leave power in the hands of three countries – India, Australia and England – became apparent when he was asked about the axing of the Test Championship.
“It is disappointing. Hopefully in all this they can come up with something good. But ja, disappointing,” sighed the South African captain, who had been the most vocal supporter among all the international captains for the Test Championship.
If the South African team is feeling disrespected by the sport’s authorities, they’re choosing to be quiet about it – for now. Events of recent weeks, won’t, said Smith, serve as extra motivation for the series against one of the ‘big three’ as the three boards have become known.
“There is so much happening around that stuff at the moment, but we’ve just really got to focus on what we can control. We are fortunate – or unfortunate – that as a team we have had to deal with a fair amount of issues outside of our playing capabilities. I think we’ve found ways that we can be successful and not get caught up in those things,” he explained.
“The key now, is that we must find it in ourselves to trust the administrators that they will make decisions that are in the best interests of the game. Our job is to play cricket, play it well and prove we are the No 1 team in the world and deserve to be here.”
Nine days is an unusually long time to spend together, particularly ahead of a home series, but these are an important few weeks for the South African side. “Three days (of preparation) would probably have left us a little under-cooked,” said Smith. “We’ve had a lot of 20/20 cricket over the last month. I also think one of the challenges we’ve faced as a team is that we played so sporadically together – we had a large winter period off (last year), two Tests against Pakistan, two Tests against India. I feel as a team the more we play together the better we get.”
Included in the nine days, is a three-day game against a ‘Composite XI’ at the Wanderers starting on Tuesday. The ‘composite’ side contains four players from the Test squad, Beauran Hendricks and Simon Harmer, who were called up to work with the squad this week to gain experience, and five players from franchise sides who didn’t make it into the play-offs for the RamSlam.
Smith explained that he saw no need to get caught up in the pre-series bluster that’s been coming out of the Australian camp since they won the Ashes. “When you’ve played against Australia enough, you learn to sift through a lot of the bull … One of our great abilities is that we are humble and we focus on ourselves. Internal strength is important. We don’t feel the need to get caught up in that stuff; this series will be decided by the cricket that gets played over the 15 days.”
One area he did agree with Clarke was the nature of South African pitches, which, barring a few exceptions, have in recent seasons been very bowler friendly.
“I’ve opened the batting in South Africa for long enough to know that it’s going to be testing, it always is. The moving ball is something we have become accustomed to. There will be unique challenges for the Australian team, as our bowling attack knows how to exploit conditions here really well and has done so effectively.”
* Meanwhile, the Australians gave up on trying to prepare in Potchefstroom and on Monday decamped in Johannesburg in the hope of getting in some proper training ahead of the first Test next week. As a result their four-day warm-up match has been cancelled.
They will train in Centurion on Tuesday morning.