GRAEME Smith’s triple celebration at the Wanderers today is in no danger of being overshadowed by the start of the Test series between South Africa and Pakistan.
Days do not get bigger than this for anyone, even a Proteas captain. Smith turns 32 today, and he announced this week that his wife, Morgan Deane, is expecting the couple’s second child. He will also become the first player in history to lead a team in a Test for the 100th time.
A slew of marketing madness – from birthday cakes to mass crowd sing-songs to electronic adulation on the scoreboard to bespoke social media hashtags – has been created to mark a moment that was deemed important enough to merit Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula’s presence at Smith’s regular captain’s press conference yesterday.
“He has displayed the spirit of no surrender,” said Mbalula. “If at every moment when people shouted him down he gave up, there would be no Graeme Smith today.
“But because he understood that courage comes with the challenges and criticism of a sportsman, that out of every challenge you come out victorious, today there is a person we are celebrating.
“Graeme Smith represents what I call a paragon of human perfection.”
Who could blame Smith if the challenge of keeping his mind on the game loomed larger than ever before.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Smith admitted. “I had a little taste of it with my 100th Test at the Oval in England and I was able to be successful there (scoring 131).
“But the advantage was that I was in a foreign country and I was able to create a little bit of space. Being in SA, the outpouring of emotion and love wherever I’ve gone has been incredible.”
Would the fuss distract his team from their task of taking on opponents strong and skilled in all departments?
“There’s a good maturity in the group now,” said Smith. “The team have had a lot of success of late, and the guys want to make this a successful five days. “You can feel that energy off the players.”
The visitors have their own distractions, what with Taufeeq Umar, who has opened the batting in their past 18 Tests on his way home with a stress fracture of the shin.
He could be replaced by the uncapped Nasir Jamshed, who scored two centuries in five innings in Pakistan’s recent one- day series against India.
Mohammad Irfan, cricket’s tallest bowler at, is less certain to play.
He’s a class act from an early age
- Born in Johannesburg on February 1 1981
- Promising schoolboy cricketer at King Edward School in Johannesburg, picked for South Africa’s U19 team.
- Left-handed opener, who played his initial first-class cricket for Gauteng but soon moved to Cape Town to play for Western Province.
- Test debut against Australia in 2002 at Newlands, one month after his 21st birthday.
- Took over as captain after eight Tests, with doubts about his leadership ability at age 22.
- Made double centuries in consecutive Tests – 277 at Edgbaston and 259 at Lords – on tour in England in 2003.
- Has scored 8 624 runs in 107 Tests at an average of 49.28.
- It includes 26 Test centuries. Has also taken eight wickets with his right-arm off-breaks.
- His games as captain are 98 for South Africa and one for the ICC World XI against Australia in October 2005.
- Set a world record 415 for the first wicket with Neil McKenzie against Bangladesh at Chittagong in early 2008. They had finished day one with 405 runs, the most ever put on by a pair in a single day of Test cricket without losing a wicket.
- Led Proteas to an away Test series win over Australia in 2008 – their first home loss in almost two decades. His heroics in batting despite a broken hand in an attempt to save the third Test won over many fans.
- Smith has led his side to 47 Test victories, with a win percentage of 47.47.
- Wanted to relinquish the captaincy after the 2011 World Cup in India, where he took the rap for the team’s brittle middle order, but was persuaded to stay on as Test skipper by coach and former team mate Gary Kirsten.
- Led SA to Test series wins over England and Australia in 2011-2012 to confirm the country’s status as the top Test- playing nation. — Reuters