Smith versus Smith adds to series drama

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TELFORD VICE, Hobart

YOU could call it Smith versus Smith, or Mr and Mr Smith, or he said he said. Or evidence that Graeme Smith regrets retiring so soon, or that Steve Smith is feeling the heat that will come at any captain whose team loses four consecutive tests.

Whatever it is, it’s added to the drama of the test series between Australia and South Africa, which reached its second act at Bellerive Oval in Hobart in the early hours of Saturday morning.

On Wednesday, at the function in Sydney where he was made an honouree of the Bradman Foundation, Graeme Smith made pointed comments about the state of Australian cricket in the wake of South Africa’s stunning comeback to win the first test at the WACA by 177 runs on Monday.

Steve Smith didn’t escape the wide sweep of his namesake’s opinions.

“You kind of think he’s trying to figure a lot of stuff out at the moment,” former South African captain Graeme Smith said.

“I certainly went through those phases in my career and you need to figure them out quickly.

“He’s probably asking himself a lot of questions about style of play, what type of leader he is, what is the type of players that he wants to walk on to the field with.

“But, as a leader, you need to understand that for yourself about who you are and that’s the only time you can really get your team to play with that personality.

“I think he’s trying to figure that all out at the moment. It certainly looks that way and he looks a bit lost.”

All of which might have been dismissed as deflected bitterness by Graeme Smith, who shocked the cricket world when he announced his retirement, at the age of 33, during the Newlands test against Australia in March 2014.

But revelations in autobiographies published by former Australian captain Michael Clarke and flamethrowing fast bowler Mitchell Johnson in recent days support Graeme Smith’s take on things.

“If I think about earlier years (of Australian cricket) it was always built on respect and the value of the baggy green,” Graeme Smith said.

“Maybe players didn’t always get on but they respected the environment and they were traditional and they understood the importance of what playing for Australia meant.

“You kind of always got the feeling that there was a polarised sense in the Aussie team over the last few years and maybe Steve Smith has inherited that a little bit and he’s trying to build again.”

The fact that Graeme Smith is the only South African captain to have won test series in Australia, in 2008-09 and 2012-13, and that he is deeply respected here for going out to bat with a broken hand in a bid to save the Sydney test in January 2009, only added to the weight of his words at a time when cricket in this country is taking a long, hard look at itself. 

But Steve Smith, who presided over his team’s 3-0 loss in Sri Lanka in July and August as well as their WACA wobble, was having none of that on Friday: “I’m not sure what Graeme Smith knows about Australian cricket.

“I think the team’s in a good place at the moment – we’ve got a good culture built on constant improvement and getting better.

“We’re a tight knit group and we’re ready to hopefully turn this around this week.”

Faf du Plessis, whose job is to beat Australia on the field, not in the press, steered clear of all that on Friday.

“I don’t know too much about it,” he said. “I just read something about the culture or something like that, and I was always of the position that if you don’t know exactly what’s going on inside anything you can’t comment on it.

“I definitely can’t comment on the Australian culture. On the outside it looks pretty much the same as always.”

So speaks a man who understands the value of avoiding distractions.

Not so Shane Warne, who waded into the fray at, of all things, a promotion for his hair replacement sponsors in Melbourne on Thursday.

“Steve Smith has done a pretty good job, but if Australia keeps losing there will be changes to the players and maybe the captaincy,” Warne said.

“When we’re losing something has to give. Who knows what can happen? We saw what happened with Donald Trump – anything can happen.”

Perhaps Steve Smith needs to look in the book. The scorebook that is, not those featuring players’ ghosted scribblings.

If he does he will be reminded that South Africa won the first test despite being bowled out for 225, losing Dale Steyn to injury early in Australia’s reply, and not taking a wicket in that innings until they had conceded 166 runs.

That’s how a tight knit group plays.

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