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August 1, 2012
Preview : A marked improvement needed
Features : England hope for Headingley magic
Features : South Africa aim for new script
Features : Rudolph returns to where revitalisation began
News : South Africa must 'get off the wave'
Players/Officials: Graeme Smith
Matches: England v South Africa at Leeds
Series/Tournaments: South Africa tour of England
With his eight-day old daughter and wife more than 11,000 miles away, Graeme Smith could be forgiven for having other things on his mind ahead of the second Test against England. That he does not, is nothing short of admirable.
"I am very focused on what lies ahead," Smith said at Headingley. "I was lucky enough to have a lengthy plane trip to put everything into perspective. Spending 14 hours alone gave me time to think about what I'd been through."
Smith returned home to Cape Town last Monday, shortly after South Africa sealed their first-ever win at The Oval, to be with his wife for the birth of their first child. The baby, named Cadence Christine, was born on Wednesday by planned caesarean section and Smith was able to spend four days with her before flying in to Leeds via Amsterdam on Sunday night.
Although he is not the only player to have taken a paternity break mid-tour - Shaun Pollock did it on the 2003 tour to England and Andrew Strauss did it on England's 2005 tour to Pakistan, to name a few - he is likely the only captain to have done it and his absence was felt. AB de Villiers described the preparation ahead of the second Test as "disjointed", while Vernon Philander said it would be good to "have our leader back".
Smith also noticed that the team was happy to have him back but did not think his trip home affected their build-up. "The guys were glad to see me so I think that's a bonus," he said. "Gary Kirsten is a very solid character in the group and keeps good perspective of where we are. His management team wouldn't have backed off on the players over the last few days so maybe I missed out on a few good fitness sessions."
Not one to ever let time off affect his game - Smith's century at The Oval came in his first Test innings since recovering from ankle surgery in April - he nonetheless said he had made an effort to "get myself technically ready" for the game. Smith had two days of training ahead of the match, which will be significant in more ways than one.
Victory would see South Africa take the No.1 ranking in Test cricket but, regardless of the result, Smith will equal Allan Border's record for most Tests as captain, a feather in the cap of his nine-year stint in charge of the team.
His commitment to building South Africa to a position where they can claim the No. 1 ranking is something he said his family had backed him in. "My family understand the space I am in and what we are trying to achieve as a team. Having the support from them is a crucial factor moving forward," he said.
He also has a much larger fanbase, with the South African public enjoying strong performances from their athletes in the United Kingdom over the past two weeks. Golfer Ernie Els won The Open on the Sunday of the Oval Test, his first major in a decade, while South African swimmers Cameron van der Burgh and Chad le Clos have won gold medals at the Olympics.
With the fans back home wanting a Test series win to cap it off, Smith said his men will do all they can to deliver. "It's just great to be a part of. As a South African, the last few weeks of sport have been incredible," he said. "You can feel the buzz back home and all the messages we have been receiving. The fans are right behind us and that motivation is a crucial factor for us."
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