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Smith on threshold of 100 Tests as captain

Opener Umar’s injury a bodyblow for Pakistan

  • AFP
  • Published: 14:34 January 31, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: AP
  • Graeme Smith battled a rough start as South African captain, but the left-hander’s gritty resolve enabled him tide over it and take his team to the top of the world.

Johannesburg: Graeme Smith will become the first cricketer to captain 100 Tests when he leads South Africa out against Pakistan on Friday, his 32nd birthday.

“To achieve what he has achieved, I don’t think will be achieved very soon again, if ever,” teammate Jacques Kallis told reporters in the build-up to the Johannesburg Test.

Today at the Wanderers has been declared ‘Biff Day’ in a nod to the nickname that exemplifies Smith’s dogged nature and bruising style.

“He’s very driven to make the team the best it can possibly be, while at the same time maintaining his own high level of play,” his predecessor Shaun Pollock told Johannesburg’s The Star newspaper.

With South Africa ranked the top Test team, Smith has been basking in the adulation of his country in the days leading

up to the Test. It was not always so for a man propelled into the job at the age of 22 and in only his ninth Test some 10 years ago.

“When he took over there were still a lot of political issues that impacted on the team and it’s not been easy on him,” said Ali Bacher, former Test captain and administrator.

Brash and arrogant

By his own admission Smith battled with the job in the beginning. His form with the bat was good but off the field he was out of his depth, targeted by the opposition and media. His defence was to come across as brash and arrogant.

“Back then I thought captaining was just an on-field thing, making some decisions and showing some leadership; little did I know about what happened behind the scenes, the selection issues and the politics,” Smith said in a television special to mark his achievement.

“Wherever I went early on teams were taking me on, the media was taking me on, and that was where I developed this hardness, this arrogance. It was my way of protecting myself and showing I can handle whatever is thrown my way. I came across in probably a very strong and not a very well-liked way.”

The rough edges have been tempered by more recent success as Smith led his side to back-to-back Test series wins in England and Australia and top place in the International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings.

His win ratio in Tests is bettered only by the great Australian and West Indian sides of the last three decades. “Being experienced now I see things differently, but you have to have a lot of ‘want’ to do the job because it is a lot of pressure, it is a lot of time and effort, a lot of strain on you and the people around you,” Smith said.

Fact Box

Teams: South Africa (likely): Graeme Smith (capt), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers (wkt), Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Robin Peterson or Imran Tahir, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel.

Pakistan (from): Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Mohammad Hafeez, Nasser Jamshed, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz Ahmad (wkt), Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan, Ehsan Adil, Adbur Rehman, Haris Sohail, Faisal Iqbal, Tanvir Ahmad, Rahat Ali, Imran Farhat

Umpires: Billy Bowden (NZL), Bruce Oxenford (AUS). TV umpire: Steve Davis (AUS). Match referee: Jeff Crowe (NZL).

Gulf News
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