'Dossier' a motivator - Smith
Graeme Smith says the supposedly leaked Australian game plan "dossier" and references in the media to their strategies for South Africa have served to "touch the motivation springs a little more" in his own side.
The document purported to contain an analysis of each of South Africa's likely Test XI and was published in local media on Thursday. Instead of an explosive summary, it was a predictable assessment which bordered on the amateur and seems to have caused more amusement than angst in the South African camp.
"There was nothing really new in that," Smith said. "I haven't read it myself, I heard a few lines and it is nothing that we didn't expect. All of us have played enough against Australia and we know what it's going to take to be victorious here. Our preparation has been really good and intelligent. Certainly the stuff that happens in the papers and maybe things Mickey [Arthur, Australia's coach] has said have only added motivation for us."
With theories sprouting over whether the dossier is an official team document, something planted to throw South Africa off kilter or a media ruse, Michael Clarke hinted at the last option. He denied the existence of an actual booklet of information and even said some of the contents were never part of Australia's planning.
"We as a team don't have an official dossier as such. We look at footage, we talk about opposition players, we study opposition strengths and weaknesses as a bowling group and a batting group, that's generally what we do as a team," he said. "There was some stuff in there that is quite common knowledge about the South African team and there was some other stuff in there that we certainly haven't spoken about."
James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive, took a similar view. "I looked at it and there are things in there that I thought, 'well, everyone knows that,' and there were things that I thought, 'well, I would do the complete opposite to that," he said. "There are some fun and games in all of that and listening to Graeme, he seems pretty unfussed by all that."
For his part, Arthur later tweeted an unequivocal message: "Just to make one thing clear-there is no secret dossier and there never was! #mediahype"
Irrespective of its legitimacy, Clarke does not think the leak will have a significant bearing on the series. "Both teams would have read the papers - that's for sure," he said. "The most important thing for me, and I've said it for a long time now, it's not about what you say, it's about what you do. That's the Australian team's attitude at the moment. It's about making sure tomorrow we turn up. Enough's been said, there's been plenty of talk in the media and it's been built up beautifully, with two very strong cricket teams. Now it's about what we do."
Smith agreed. "It doesn't really make a difference [whether that is their strategy or not]," Smith said. "We have prepared for what we going to expect over the next few days. Tactically, we are doing our work anyway. The most important thing for us was maximising our preparation."
One of the things both teams have been preparing for is chin music with bouncers certain to fly on a spicy Gabba pitch. "I wouldn't be surprised if you see plenty of short stuff, that's for sure," Clarke said. "The young quicks know what they have to do. I've made it very clear that they need to keep the same aggression they had against India last summer. We understand there's a line that you can't cross, but we'll be pushing that line."
The dossier indicated Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and JP Duminy would be targets of the short ball but Smith was more sedate in his reaction. "When you've got fast bowlers on either side, it's always going to be a topic of discussion, especially at venues like the Wanderers or the Gabba," he said.
Amla was also the subject of a psychological examination by Australia which may be surprising given his reputation as one of the tougher characters in cricket who rarely gets ruffled. Johan Botha, a former team-mate of Amla's who now captains South Australia, said it is unlikely Australia will be able to change that.
"He (Amla) is pretty relaxed and I don't think it will affect him at all," Botha said in Adelaide. "He has played against Australia now a few times - he has played against all the other top teams in the world. And he is the type of guy who it doesn't affect him if you say something or if you don't. He just goes out there and watches the ball and grinds out big scores. They (Australia) can do what they want (but) you have got to put the ball in the right area and put him under pressure. Hashim will just go about his game as he has always done."
Mental weakness overall though, has cost South Africa on previous occasions so the strategy in itself would not be entirely misplaced but Smith believes the team have gotten over their problems in that department and will not be rattled by mind games.
"Our Test side has proven that, especially away from home. You play in other people's backyards, in front of their crowds and you have different sorts of pressure. You have to be able to stand up at key times," he said. "When good teams play each other there are small margins and you need to be able to handle those small margins better. Our goal is to match up again. I don't expect to see us too emotional about things. If we can be focused and clinical, I will be happy."
Already South Africa have given the cold shoulder to attempts by Australia to rile them up. When Arthur mentioned during his media engagements this week that Australia's seven left-handers will look to capitalise on the statistics that Dale Steyn has been less successful against southpaws than right-handed batsmen, Gary Kirsten shrugged it off with a smile. "Let's just say it will provide us with good motivation."
Talking down the world's top-ranked bowler did not last long in the Australian camp and Arthur soon backtracked to say he only meant that because Steyn bowls to fewer left-handers, the numbers are skewed the other way. Ricky Ponting then said Australia will look to "negate Steyn because then we will go a long way to winning."
Again, Smith did not feed the machine with anything more about what he expects form his go-to man on this pitch. "I'm looking forward to Dale taking 10 wickets and looking forward to Vernon taking 10 wickets," he said non-committal fashion. "You can bowl the speed of light but how effective can you be. Dale has proven that he can do both and hopefully he can show that in this Test match.
Rather, Smith's focus is on making sure South Africa stick to their much talked about processes and follow their own plans. He said they have devised many tactics but they are unlikely to find their way into the public domain. "We try to keep it in the guys' heads as much as possible so dossiers aren't left lying around."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent