England v South Africa, 3rd npower Test, Edgbaston July 29, 2008

South Africa wait on Smith fitness


Graeme Smith: struggling with a sore back © Getty Images
 
South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, has emerged as an injury concern ahead of the third Test against England at Edgbaston on Wednesday, after picking a back injury while batting against Bangladesh A during their drawn warm-up game at Worcester last Thursday.

Smith missed South Africa's training session on Monday, and was expecting to opt out of the indoor nets on Tuesday after heavy overnight rain forced the players to cancel their pre-match middle practice. He now faces a late fitness test on the morning of the Test to determine whether he will be able to take part.

"It's been niggling me a bit and I'm obviously in a little bit of pain, so it's just about taking precautions to make sure I'm ready for tomorrow," said Smith. "I don't want to do anything today that will affect tomorrow, but I'm taking treatment and improving every day, so tomorrow morning I see myself coming down early and putting in the work I need to."

Smith's absence would be a major blow to South Africa's hopes of sewing up their first series win in England since readmission. Dale Steyn has already been ruled out with a broken thumb. Edgbaston is a ground which harbours fond memories for Smith as well - it was here, as a 22-year-old rookie captain in 2003, that he racked up his career-best score of 277, the perfect riposte to his opposite number, Nasser Hussain, who had forgotten his name during the pre-match press conference. Hussain resigned immediately after the game as Michael Vaughan took over the reins.

When asked if he was 100% sure of being fit for the Test, Smith replied: "I would like to think I am" - a statement that did not sound flushed with confidence. Should he fail his fitness test, JP Duminy is standing by to partner Neil McKenzie in a match that South Africa need only to draw to ensure a share of the series. Ashwell Prince, their form batsman of the series, would take over as captain.

Nevertheless, Smith had not mislaid his sense of humour in spite of his fitness concerns. When asked how the injury had come about, he responded: "It was just something that I woke up with - maybe it's a change of beds" - a reference to the excuse that was offered by England's bowling coach, Ottis Gibson, when Ryan Sidebottom reported a stiff back during the Lord's Test.

South Africa 1 Graeme Smith/JP Duminy, 2 Neil McKenzie, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 Ashwell Prince, 6 AB de Villiers, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Morne Morkel, 9 Paul Harris, 10 Andre Nel, 11 Makhaya Ntini.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo