South Africa v England, 2nd Test, Durban, 5th day December 30, 2004

'I think we were a bit lucky at the end there'

Graeme Smith: 'A draw is a bitter-sweet result for both teams' © Getty Images

Graeme Smith admitted that fortune had smiled on South Africa in the closing stages of the second Test at Durban, but praised the tenacity of his team, since lesser sides might have crumbled in the face of such a turnaround. "I think we were a bit lucky at the end there," he said, "but we deserve a lot of credit for the way we fought, after being on top for two days."

Smith added that Shaun Pollock's local knowledge had come into play when assessing the team's approach to the fifth day, "[Polly] said that, at 4.30 local time, bad light starts to set in. We set out to win at first, but when we lost a few wickets after lunch, that became the goal.

"I think a draw is a bitter-sweet result for both teams," said Smith, whose side was well on top until a 273-run opening stand between Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick flipped the game on its head. "On Day Two, we were confident of our ability to put the pressure on England's batsmen, but maybe we needed to be more on the button in that 11-over stint [at the openers late in the day]. It was crucial that England's openers started well and they did. In that heat, once you get behind it's hard to come back, and we toiled through the rest of the Test match."

South Africa now have just two days to regroup before the third Test begins in Cape Town on January 2, but Smith insisted that his team was ready for the challenge. "Back-to-back matches are always an issue," he said. "But both sets of bowlers had a workout, and our medical team has been on the case straightaway. This afternoon was a stepping stone. We had our opportunities to win and we need to look at that, but there's an even feeling in the dressing-room. We haven't lost here, but we're still 1-0 down, and we need good cricket to come back."

The Barmy Army was denied a England win at Durban © Cricinfo/Neil Lane
The closing stages of the game were fraught for South Africa's fans and players alike. Shaun Pollock is expected to be fit after being hit on the fingers by Steve Harmison, although he was run out immediately afterwards by his partner AB de Villiers, which gave Smith a minor attack of the vapours. "I was bouncing a cricket ball around the dressing-room for about 15 minutes afterwards," he admitted. "But AB's a young guy and he played superbly, and with Polly's experience, it worked well. We showed some serious hardness, and got a lot more out of the Test than we expected at tea."

With the light fading, England took the new ball, which may have hastened the umpires' decision to call the game off. "It's interesting," said Smith. "They bowled well with the older ball, but maybe they tried too hard with the new ball? But that happens when matches get close, you get anxious and try to force the pace. They might have tried one or two things, or maybe given a go to their spinners - but I was concentrating more on our boys.

"The pressure's always on in Test cricket," Smith concluded. "We played positively throughout and we played to win, but maybe this one thing has changed the series for us now. If we play good cricket at Cape Town, we could go to Jo'burg at 1-1."

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo. He will be following the England team throughout the Test series in South Africa.