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When I read Samir Chopra’s piece about the deep and lasting pain which is occasioned by your team’s losing a Test match, I nodded vigorously while muttering “46 all out”. By rights, then, I should have been devastated by the loss at Edgbaston, especially since I’d come into the series thinking England had a decent chance of winning it, but somewhat to my own surprise, this one hardly hurt at all.
I think I felt a bit like the Yorkshire member who advanced on Bradman as he left the field at Headingley in 1948 and expostulated “You… you… b-booger!” It shouldn’t have happened, it couldn’t have happened, but it did, and there was nothing left but to marvel. England were beaten at Edgbaston by one of the great fourth innings hundreds at the end of a vibrant Test match which hardly ever flagged; they had an excellent chance of winning which they did not blow but which was wrestled out of their grasp by a captain who would not be denied.
It must be infuriating to bowl at Graeme Smith. At least when you bowl at someone like Shiv Chanderpaul or Rahul Dravid you probably realise that you are extremely unlikely to get him out, an expectation which he is only too glad to fulfil, but surely it exhausts your mental energy to see Smith apparently escaping danger by the thickness of the laminate on his bat all the time.
His batting is almost endearingly gauche, not unattractive so much as unpolished; its lack of education gives it a veneer of vulnerability and danger. Whereas most leading Test batsmen present finely-drawn shots played with practiced ease, Smith offers prototypes cobbled together from a sketch on last evening’s restaurant napkin. His feet are often in the wrong place, or the bat is too far from the body or held at the wrong angle, or it’s not really the right shot to play at that ball – it seems that by all logic he should be out twice an over, but instead he manhandles his strokes to great effect and gets a barrowload of runs.
If the batting of an Ian Bell or VVS Laxman or Mark Waugh was lovingly constructed by skilled automotive engineers and expensive design consultants, Smith’s was put together on Scrapheap Challenge - and as with the odd-looking contraptions made of cannibalised parts, it sometimes works spectacularly well.
The prize for the best comment on my piece about Jaques Kallis goes to Howard, who demonstrated a perfect understanding of what I intended by remarking that Smith, even though a flawed and less talented player than Kallis, is perhaps more likely to achieve greatness. I shall be rather cross with him if he does, because I don’t remember receiving an application from him to join my list of heroes. In my world, Smith is not supposed to be a great batsman: what he is supposed to be is lbw, trapped on the crease by an inswinger.
As may be apparent, I have not previously been one of Smith’s admirers: I sat through his double hundred at Lord’s in 2003 (another match I remember with ‘Samiristic’ despair) wondering how bad bowlers had to be to fail to get this limited lunkhead out. But cricket never ceases to surprise, and if he eventually joins my pantheon, his innings at Edgbaston will be the point at which he started to change my mind.
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