ADELAIDE — The disappointment at home generated by South Africa’s failure to win the first Test against Australia showed how much "respect" the team had won since attaining the top ranking, according to Proteas captain Graeme Smith.
South Africa’s debut as top dogs in the Test world fell flat in Brisbane, their much-vaunted pace attack managing to prise only five wickets in the draw to leave the hosts claiming a moral victory and the momentum ahead of the second Test in Adelaide, which started on Thursday.
That Test started badly for South Africa, with Australia captain Michael Clarke and David Warner both making quick centuries — with Warner smashing 119 off just 112 balls. Ricky Ponting’s woes continued, however, as he made just four runs in three balls before being bowled out. At tea Australia were 280 for four with Clarke unconquered on 104 and Mike Hussey not out 34. The home side added a blistering 178 runs off just 26 overs in the middle session.
Smith said on Wednesday: "The great thing is that there is respect for our performance.
"I think if we had travelled a few years ago and drawn a Test match anywhere else in the world, people would have been raving about it. For us a disappointment in a draw is good; it shows people expect us to play well and that’s exciting for us.
"We come to Adelaide knowing there are a few areas where we can definitely improve on and we’ve had some good discussions about that.
"But in terms of the No1 ranking, we know that it’s going to be a process of us performing well for a period of time and this is the big challenge for us and if we come through Australia having been successful, then it will give us a great opportunity to create something."
Life has been tough at the top of Test cricket, with both India and England relinquishing the premier ranking in little more than a year.
Since taking over the captaincy from Shaun Pollock in 2003, Smith has spent eight years piloting the Proteas’ steady rise to the summit, but could ultimately see his team lose their foothold should Australia win the series.
Their short reign has already been undermined by team selectors, who overlooked Imran Tahir in favour of a four-prong pace attack that drew little from the Gabba wicket. Smith said it was "back to normal" with Tahir’s reinstatement at Adelaide.
Clarke on Wednesday denied any rift with vice-captain Shane Watson as the all-rounder was ruled out of the second Test. Watson has been troubled by a calf injury and tried this week to prove his fitness after missing the drawn series opener in Brisbane earlier this month.
But Clarke said doubts about Watson’s injury prompted Australia to go with an unchanged team for the second Test in Adelaide. "He has improved a lot over the last few days ... but is probably a few days short of being 100%," Clarke said.
The captain dismissed speculation of a rift with Watson, stressing there was no communication breakdown with his deputy.
"Watto and I, our friendship and our professional relationship when it comes to captain and vice-captain, is as close as I can certainly ask for."
Senior batsman Ponting warned this week against playing a not fully fit Watson, saying it would place too much pressure on his team-mates.