ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
Bangladesh v South Africa, Group B, World Cup 2011, Mirpur
Looking to lead from the front again - Smith
Firdose Moonda in Mirpur
March 18, 2011
When a 22-year-old Graeme Smith was given the biggest job in South African cricket, Dhaka was the venue of his first assignment. He had to lead the side to a seven-match tri-series involving the hosts and India, in which South Africa won three of the four round-robin matches they played. The final, between South Africa and India, was washed out.
Now, eight years on, Smith is ending his tenure as captain and one of the stops on his last assignment is Dhaka. He seems to have fond memories of the place where it all began. "It was a bit up and down at the start, but in the last four years or so I've really felt in control," he said. "From around 2008, I've seen us reap rewards and begun to understand what's required of me. I've had a team that I felt I could really say is mine."
It's interesting that Smith should pick 2008 as the time when things began changing. That was time enough after South Africa's Caribbean World Cup semi-final exit to have a fresh look at the one-day set-up and left time enough to build before the tournament's next edition. In between that they had major Test series to concentrate on as well, and won in England and Australia while drawing in India. They ended up losing the ODI series' that followed those Test wins but 2008 marked the start of South Africa playing to plans, a phrase that encompasses various things we've seen at this World Cup. Like rotating players within the squad to suit conditions and targeting specific players in calculated ways.
It's involved doing a lot of homework, but almost all of it has paid off. When Smith opened the bowling with an offspinner to Chris Gayle, he had him out within three balls. When he opened with a left-arm spinner to Kevin Pietersen, the same happened. They wanted to target the Indians bowlers in the Powerplay and the way they batted in that period won them the match. Similar research has been done for the match against Bangladesh.
Smith looked like an eager school kid as he reeled off the things he had learnt about Bangladesh so far. "We've seen that they have averaged 40 to 41 overs of spin with the ball, so we expect a lot of that. They have seven left handers and play well on the front foot but if we can put pressure on them from the start, they don't have a huge confidence base."
Smith emphasised that even though South Africa have qualified for the quarter-finals, they are not going to slack off. It has nothing to do with the win that Bangladesh earned over South Africa in the 2007 World Cup. "There is no added emotion from our perspective and no revenge talk," Smith said. "Four years it a lot of time to let things go."
What there might be is an eagerness to show how much they have improved from that day in Guyana, when a confident 87 from Mohammed Ashraful and a strangling bowling performance from Shakib Al Hasan and Abdur Razzak saw South Africa bowled out for 184, chasing 252.
"We used to rely on brute force in the past, but we are more subtle now," Smith said. The spinners, for a start, have added to the finesse. All three frontline spinners, Imran Tahir, Robin Peterson and Johan Botha, have been among the wickets but, as is the nature of their trade, it's out-thinking the batsman that has done the trick more than scaring them. Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers have scored picture-perfect centuries and JP Duminy a gritty 99.
They've been "street-smart" as Smith likes to call it but that doesn't mean their bullying days are done. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel can bruise teams upfront, and given that South Africa are determined to pressurise Bangaldesh from the outset, that's what they will be looking to do.
Smith himself may indulge in a bit of the bullying. The captain has been struggling for form, the 45 he scored against West Indies his highest score of the tournament. "It's been frustrating," he said. "I've got a lot of starts and haven't been able to capitalise on them." Getting significant time at the crease and having a good knock is vital to Smith for another reason - it how he shows his ability as a leader. "It's an important time for me to do well. For a long time I have led from the front and I would like to get back to doing that."
Maybe it wouldn't be so crucial to have a defining innings if Smith wasn't wrapping up his stint at the helm. For now, his time is all about the experiences and he hopes Bangladesh will give him one to add to his collection. "It's going to be wonderful for us to play here in this World Cup. We know the crowd are going to be behind Bangladesh, we'll be up for it."
Thirty years ago England were battered, bruised, broken and blackwashed in the Caribbean