Smith feels pressure of success
GRAEME Smith’s character is rock solid, but even he is susceptible to the pressures created by his lengthening list of achievements.
Having become the first player to captain a team in 100 Tests, one of them of a World XI, Smith will reach a century of Test captaincies of the Proteas at Newlands on Thursday.
"Before the last Test I’d wake up at four in the morning dreaming I’d got a pair," Smith said on Wednesday about the first Test against Pakistan at the Wanderers.
"Representing South Africa 100 times as captain is the mark that means the most to me. Being a part of this team is important to me and the rest of the guys, so to be able to achieve a milestone in these colours is something I will remember for a long time."
He will also remember the quality cricket his team, the world’s best Test side, are playing. But even that cast a shadow.
"The side has got really good at recognising moments in games — big days, big sessions — and making big impacts. When the game needs to be stepped up, we’ve found that extra bit. The challenge is to keep maintaining that performance, and it’s always going to be a challenge — every Test, we’ve got to keep meeting those expectations."
South Africa did just that in Johannesburg, where they dismissed Pakistan for 49 in their first innings and won by 211 runs with five sessions to spare.
"They allowed us to bowl at them, and we managed to control the run rate for a large part of the game," Smith said. "That let us attack them more. If they come into this game with the mind-set to leave (more deliveries) then they are going to be tentative, and that will allow us to create pressure."
Pakistan coach Dav Whatmore’s take was: "You can’t win a Test match in a session, but you can go a long way towards losing one. That’s pretty much what happened."
South Africa are unlikely to tamper with their combination but Pakistan look set to blood Mohammad Irfan, who at 2.194m is the world’s tallest fast bowler. Rahat Ali, who made an unconvincing debut at the Wanderers, is the most likely candidate for the chop.
The Pakistanis could be forced to make another change, what with Junaid Khan in doubt with a gash to his thigh. If he is ruled out, Abdur Rehman should crack the nod.
Newlands is unlikely to offer pace bowlers as much help as the Wanderers but it will still be a much faster pitch than Pakistan are comfortable dealing with.
"The longer you play in these conditions, the better you get at it," Whatmore said. But he bridled at the suggestion that South Africa could teach his team a thing or two, saying: "We don’t go into this match to learn something — we go there to win."
Another victory would see South Africa winning five Tests in a row, a feat not yet achieved under Smith. "We’ve proven that we’ve been solid for a length of time now but the challenge is always to maintain that performance," he said.
Smith said they would not underestimate the Pakistan team, which had a history of starting off badly on tour then turning things around.
"They’re in a pretty dangerous position after being beaten comprehensively at the Wanderers, but they’re also a team accustomed to putting in two vastly different performances," he said.
"We can’t underestimate their talent and ability, especially with the ball, and we know, if there is one team that can bounce back from a performance like that, it’s Pakistan."