Graeme Smith praises "terrific" bowling unit
Graeme Smith has praised his varied bowling attack for making his job as captain easier, as South Africa chase a series win with his team 1-0 up ahead of the third Test at the Basin Reserve.
"The maturity the guys have shown as a bowling unit has been exciting for me," Smith said. "The guys have shown great discipline. There's also been great aggression thrown in there."
Russell Domingo, South Africa's assistant coach, said Smith had never been happier with the attack at his disposal and Smith confirmed that it is a luxury to be in charge of such a talented group. "I've been lucky. There have been a lot of great bowlers along the way but the all-round attack now is terrific," Smith said. "To have three frontline seamers is rare for a captain. They all offer something different which allows me to attack in different ways all the time.
"And then we've got an attacking spinner (Imran Tahir) who has also showed a lot of control for us at times when he was needed and it has allowed us to use Jacques [Kallis] in more impact roles. In the past, we've had some great bowlers but maybe not so much the whole rounded mindset."
Smith's attack is developed enough for him not to have to issue instruction anymore but merely offer advice. "You always need to be giving a degree of guidance," he said. "It's not me telling him, it's more of a discussion about what we're trying to achieve so that we can both be cohesive in the way that we're thinking and planning. I have a good relationship with the bowlers so that generally happens quite quickly."
Ross Taylor's situation is a little different. While the New Zealand captain has the experience of Chris Martin and Daniel Vettori, Doug Bracewell is relatively new in the national side and Mark Gillespie has only just made his comeback. Rather than a settled unit to work with, Taylor has to cope with tactical teething issues and Smith said this series could prove defining in terms of the captain Taylor will one day become.
"With their team, there's lots of talk of where they want to go," Smith said. "I guess that's important for Ross to understand, do you want to go with six frontline batters or four seamers? That's the decision we had to make in 2008. In 2007 and we went with strike bowlers and six batters to do the job. I think that's an important decision for him as a captain. It's still early days from that perspective so maybe this series will be a crucial stepping stone for him in terms of how he wants New Zealand to play."
Taylor has acknowledged that the team is still a work in progress. "I'm still in my infancy as a captain and I'm learning the whole time," Taylor said. "There are different things you pick up along the way. I'm just learning from different situations and picking peoples' brains and learning off the opposition."
Smith is only three years older than Taylor, but in cricket years, Smith is much older than that. On Friday, Smith will captain South Africa for the 90th time, Taylor will lead New Zealand for the seventh. Smith is the most experienced current national captain, Taylor the least. There's knowledge to be transferred, knowledge that Smith believes begins with fear.
"The more experience you gain, maybe the more fear you gain. And then you gain a knowledge in how to deal with certain circumstances and situations that you are going through and that players are going through," Smith said, recalling his own captaincy journey, which began in 2003. "For me, at 22, I lacked fear because I didn't know what to expect. I have gained a lot of experience now in terms of dealing with those situations."
The fear Smith talks about is the that of balancing attack with defence. It's the fear that having built up a reputation, it could all come crashing down and the hunger to ensure that does not happen. Smith insists he has become that kind of fearful, but it does not show. He has led South Africa to a five-year stretch of being unbeaten in a series away from home.
Whatever happens in Wellington, that record will remain in intact and Smith can take his badge of honour with him to England. His fear of maintaining that record can resurrect itself in July. For now, he will concern himself with finishing this season in the best way possible. "I just want to steer the ship well," Smith said. "The last Test of the touring summer is always important."
Edited by Kanishkaa Balachandran
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent