South Africa in New Zealand 2011-12 March 6, 2012

We have become more aggressive on tours - Smith

When Graeme Smith first toured New Zealand he was 23 years old. He had already been South Africa's captain for nine months and 13 Test matches, won seven of them and had two double hundreds to his name. He hid his inexperience behind a veneer of bullishness, while displaying his obvious talent.

Eight years have passed since then and Smith has captained South Africa in 74 more Tests, 34 of which have ended in victory. He has scored 17 more hundreds, not even a velvet curtain can hide his feelings now and he has collected battle scars from all around the world. His most recent one is the bruising on his forearm, sustained after being hit by Morne Morkel in the first net-practice of the current tour, but it will not stop him from leading South Africa in Dunedin.

South Africa drew the 2004 Test series, Smith's only previous one in New Zealand, 1-1. Smith says the side is better equipped to win this time because, like him, they are older and wiser. "We were a little wet behind the ears then," Smith said at the University Oval. "We have a far more attacking mindset now. Before, we used to tour wanting to see how well we could do; now we tour thinking 'we've come to here to win'. It's a very different thought process."

Series wins abroad, most notably in Australia and England, have contributed to the Test side's growing self-assuredness. Since winning a home series for the first time since 2008 - they beat Sri Lanka 2-1 in 2011-12 - South Africa have become known as the most consistent side in Test cricket, and can become the top-ranked Test team if they beat New Zealand 3-0. Also aiding South Africa is the fact that they dominated New Zealand in the Twenty20s and ODIs preceding the Tests, something Smith said would have dented the hosts' confidence.

"After losing the way they did, if we can perform well in this first Test match maybe we can dent that confidence even more; and New Zealand have a lot of players involved in both series, even though they do get three of four key players back. Maybe their confidence is not as thick and strong as it was a few months ago. Hopefully we can get into that and open it up a little bit."

Smith said the bowling attack South Africa have on this tour is more dynamic than the one that they had on their last trip to New Zealand, which featured Shaun Pollock, Andre Nel and Makhaya Ntini. This season has seen the emergence of fast bowler Vernon Philander, who stunned both Australia and Sri Lanka with little more than the ability to bowl almost no bad balls and enjoyed a return of 30 wickets from his first four Tests, and legspinner Imran Tahir, who gives South Africa another attacking option.

"He's had an unbelievable start to his Test career," Smith said of Philander. "He has a very different style to the rest of our attack. He asks a lot of questions with the ball, he is in the right area more often than not and even on flat wickets gets the ball to talk a little bit. He brings a lot of consistency to our attack and I think he has been a real asset in addition to the pace of Dale [Steyn] and Morne [Morkel.

"We've got a lot more pace now than we had eight years ago. We've also got a legspinner now."

Tahir has not had a massive impact on the five Tests he has played so far but will be in the starting XI in Dunedin, as part of coach Gary Kirsten's plan to give players a sustained run.

Kirsten is one of the reasons for South Africa's changed approach. If there is a man who can introduce a philosophy to help South Africa achieve things they have previously been unable to, like spending time at the top of the Test rankings, Smith believes Kirsten is him. "More than anything, of all the coaches I have been under, Gary brings a much more relaxed, mature approach to the way he runs the team. We've grown a lot over the last few years and need someone to take us to the next level in terms of maturity, and the way we play and think about the game."

Edited by Dustin Silgardo

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Johan on March 7, 2012, 0:54 GMT

    This is an important series for Graeme, he is under presure to step up, his inabillity to sort-out his batting against lefties is a problem, I think he is the player under the most presure to have a great tour... Make no mistake he is a great bat once he gets going, but needs to prove that once again... I wish him and the Proteas well, and a good tour of NZ. There is a lot of hype around the No 1 spot... There has only been one real No 1 team within cricket, and that was Aussie, 5years ago, they could beat anybody, anyday, every time, anywhere that is a number one team, If you can do that, you are No 1, to win a whitewash means nothing, ask England.

  • Michael on March 7, 2012, 0:21 GMT

    On a serious note. IMHO SA deserve the no. 1 spot despite their home record which has improved beating Sri Lanka and drawing with Australia in very interesting series. Aside from their home performances SA have been the most consistent side outside of their home boundaries, are playing some of the most exciting cricket at the moment and have the most balanced side. Having said this I'm still rather perplexed by their home performances but that's a completely different discussion for another day.

    Under Michael Clarke's leadership I am convinced that we will bounce back and once again be reinstated as the no. 1 team however for the moment SA deserve the title. Good luck SA.

  • Michael on March 6, 2012, 23:31 GMT

    I support Australia and any other team wearing green and gold. Hope that the Saffas can can pull off a 3-0 victory.

    I have one question for the Saffas on here though. What is it about you blokes, you can't win squat at home but are always dominant off-shore? Is SA really that crap, that you're secretly hoping to be selected as the national team for a competing country?

  • Kevin on March 6, 2012, 23:21 GMT

    Wow, did NZ really win a test in 2004? All I can remember is SA batting on, and on, and on, which is probably what they'll do this time too, but they'd better be wearing their gumboots. You can't outplay the weather. Might be tempted to bat first if the outfield remains damp, as it will soften the ball and remove the shine pretty quickly.

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2012, 16:38 GMT

    @Sarwar Alam, I don't think I've seen NZ win the first 7 sessions of a match against any Test team in my 20 years of watching cricket... their batting is usually brittle and through sheer hard-work they can hold on... but rarely dominate sides that play to 70% of their capacity...

  • Shulz Van on March 6, 2012, 16:16 GMT

    Its not easy beating any team 3-0 in their home....But this SA team has the possibility...When NZ won that first t20 against the jetlagged SA team they thought they won the series...Since then SA kinda mopped the floor with the kiwis. In SA are the strongest team in the world. Atleast in one of those 6 NZ inning they would get rolled over by Steyn n co.....3-0 would be hard but atleast a 2-0 is on the card. I dont think NZ can pull off one victory.

  • Alan on March 6, 2012, 14:45 GMT

    Interesting that a side could have just gone more than three years without winning a home test series and still be on the verge of becoming the no.1 test side in the world. This probably reflects the fact that there is no dominant force in test cricket at the moment, India, Australia and England all having suffered embarrassing defeats within the last 14 months

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2012, 7:08 GMT

    the problem with new zealand is that they will be on top for 7 of the 15 sessions,with the match hung in balance until they start erring to give it away. They need to define a role for someone to have that undying character who could enable the team cross the finishing line.

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