Pakistan v South Africa 2013-14 October 4, 2013

Little more uncertainty this time - Smith


Over the last six months Graeme Smith has become a father for the second time, presented the national rugby team, the Springboks, with their match-day jerseys, met up with Kevin Pietersen to help promote a range of clothing and worked alongside Mark Boucher in a bid to save the rhinoceros. He also played a bit of cricket. One match, to be precise. 

Smith's only cricket since his 74 for Surrey against Hampshire on May 6, was a warm-up game for his local franchise, the Cobras, this Wednesday. In 10 days' time, he will front up against the Pakistan attack and lead his team in the first Test since February. It's a thought that would leave anyone, including Smith, wide-eyed.

"I feel like I am going on my first tour but obviously with a lot more experience. I am extremely nervous," Smith said, with a coy smile to match, at the team's departure. "Having not played for a period of time, I need to maximise the preparation available for me before the first Test." 

Apart from net sessions, which he has already been having with the Cobras for the last two weeks, Smith will only have one practice match in the UAE but it may be all he needs. "I've upped my cricket skills in the last two weeks or so and it will be about getting mentally ready." 

Long layoffs have seldom affected Smith's form. Last year, when he missed the IPL because of an ankle injury, he spent two months out of action before the tour of England. In his comeback game, which was also his 100th Test match, he scored a century

Smith has built on his career on leading by example and he plans to do the same on this tour. "We have to get ourselves up to the speed that we finished at summer," he said. "There's a standard we want to maintain. A lot of our standard comes from within."

Even though South Africa are in no danger of losing the Test mace even if they are beaten 2-0, because of their healthy lead at the top of the rankings, they have a record to uphold. They have not lost a Test series away from home since 2006, when they were defeated in Sri Lanka. Since then, they have won in England and Australia, twice, triumphed in West Indies and drawn in India. 

The subcontinent remains the final frontier and Smith wants the team to be ready for "the worst". By that he means raging turns, the type that undid England early last year and will test a technique South African batsmen have been working to master in recent years. "Maybe England weren't as mentally prepared as they could have been," he said. "One of the reasons we've traveled so well is because we are able to adapt but this time there is probably a little more of the unknown." 

Another uncertainty is what happens when South Africa come home. What was supposed to be a bumper summer with three Tests each against India and Australia has been thrown into disarray because of administrative arguments. Through their association, the players have called for an "urgent engagement" between the CSA and the BCCI and their desperation to play more Test cricket is becoming more evident the longer the impasse wages on. 

"We're looking forward to playing Test cricket again," Smith said. "We've already got the mace and it's nice to see it here. I can feel the excitement in the team and when I walk around from the fans. People want more Test cricket."

The desire to continue playing cricket that makes South Africans proud is what Smith reminded himself of even when he felt the pain of his injury was becoming too much. "I still have the drive and motivation to play; that's what kept me afloat," he said. "I still feel I have the drive to do it for a period of time. When you've captaining since 22, you spend a lot of time building and putting processes in place. And now we have those and we've given ourselves a great chance to create something special as a team."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on October 7, 2013, 18:55 GMT

    Last time SA played in UAE was ages ago. They were not no.1 that time but still they dominated in the series and won the limited over competition. Pakistan's problem is batting. The top order is very fragile thus leaves too much on the middle order to do. I will favour SA to win the series and maybe Pak will manage to draw which will be hard. SA has much more settled outfit and they have lots of match winner. But all said Pak lacked discipline and hunger to win test match in Zimbabwe, and they were on the mat for most of the time in tests against Zim.

  • Saad on October 7, 2013, 10:05 GMT

    Last time Pakistan faced SA in UAE it was 0-0 and in one match Pakistan dropped Ajmal,Ajmal was not on top of his career at that time but now he,Rehman and Babar can make a difference as for Dale Steyn and Co they never performed well in UAE as they perform in SA Pak batting is improved with Misbah,Younis,Azhar and even Asad Shafiq SA do bat well against spinners than Eng but still our spinners even have destroyed Indian,Lankan lineups who are known the best players of spin.I see Pak if not 2-0 than they can surely get 1-0

  • Mark on October 7, 2013, 9:55 GMT

    CSA should have kept SA playing tests or at least, warm up matches. So long without cricket is difficult. T20 is hardly preparation for test cricket. They could have arranged some fours day matches against Ireland, Kenya...a test or two against Zimbabwe. Just to get them ready for 5 day cricket. Now they are facing one of the most unpredictable teams, in a spinner heaven, without much match practice. SA have the talent, quality and experience to pull it off, but Pakistan will not be pushovers this time, despite their poor showing in Zimbabwe.

  • David on October 6, 2013, 9:52 GMT

    @ Abbas Cheema believes "whether SA declared or whatever,the fact is pak would have won 1-0 if they had dared to chase 7 an over in last 15 overs ..."

    That is better expressed as "although SA declared, Pak MIGHT have won 1-0 if they COULD have even POSSIBLY chased 7 an over in last 15 overs, instead of tuk tucking along.."

    All this stuff about "spot fixing saga ... ajmal nd rehman not settled in ... no zulfiqar baber or junaid batting,hafeez,taufeeq,misbah,younus were making comeback whereas asad shafiq debuting nd umer akmal nd azhar ali were new.." - that is all ifs & maybes, buts & could haves and would haves ... but they COULD NOT do it. That is whinging like Aussies and Poms. FACT: SA dominated Pak on UAE roads, & destroyed them this year in SA.

    Pak's spinners aren't facing clueless England. They are facing a REAL no.1, that can play spin. Pak have no pace, & can't play SA's pace. I truly respect & admire Pak, but I'm a realist. You dont seem grasp the basic facts!

  • Dummy4 on October 6, 2013, 8:56 GMT

    @greatest_game whether south africa declared or whatever,the fact is pak would have won 1-0 if they had dared to chase 7 an over in last 15 overs with 7 wickets in hands..younus nd misbah were set batsmen on 130 odd nd 70 odd respectively..moreover that series was just after spot fixing saga with ajmal nd rehman not settled in the team nd no zulfiqar baber or junaid batting,hafeez,taufeeq,misbah,younus were making comeback whereas asad shafiq debuting nd umer akmal nd azhar ali were new..still ur spinners failed miserablyon fifth day UAE pitches..u shud admit it that jst like paul harris nd john botha,peterson nd tahir are not gonna do wonders as compared to spinners of pak..therefore pak r fav for me

  • David on October 6, 2013, 1:56 GMT

    Hopefully we will see pitches that can produce a result, whether they aid seam or spin or swing … as long as the bowlers have something to work with! Another fruitless series on concrete roads will do nothing for either team, or for cricket.

    Good luck to both teams, and let us hope that we see some competitive, exciting cricket from 2 proud, honorable cricketing nations.

  • David on October 6, 2013, 1:33 GMT

    Abbas Cheema forgets a few important facts when writing "in first test pak chasing around 450 scored around 350 for 3 ... but settled for draw..."

    Inngs 1 SA posted 380. Pak replied with 248 - 152 behind. Abbas forgets to mention that in inngs 2 SA DECLARED at 318/2! The match ended with Pak on 343/3. For the test, SA scored 698/12 - ave 58.17, & Pak scored 591/13 - ave 45.46.

    Abbas says that in the 2nd "test pakistan comfortably batted around 60 overs and lost only 3 wickets on the final day thnx to azhar ali and misbah.." He forgets to mention that in inngs 1 SA declared on 584/9. Pak were 434 all out. SA declared AGAIN on 203/5, & Pak finished with 153/3. For the test, SA scored 787/14 - ave 56.21 to Pak's 587/13 - ave 45.15.

    For that series, SA averaged 57.12 to Pakistan's 45.31, but somehow Abbas predicts "60/40 in favour of Pakistan."

    Abbas also fails to mention that SA won both T20s, and won the ODI series 3-2.

  • I on October 5, 2013, 18:18 GMT

    South Africa aren't England, I can't see them collapsing in the face of small targets and disciplined spin bowling. England's failures weren't on reading fishnets, they were decent pitches that aided spin. Gul, Broad and Anderson also took wickets, so Steyn & co. should also do well

  • Mian Ahmad on October 5, 2013, 13:04 GMT

    i think the Proteas are going to get it tougher from Pakistan compare to their last tour in 2010....that time was different..The spot fixing saga was fresh on that time...Misbah was leading Pakistan for ist time,,,Ajmal was not at his peak at that time,,,,And also if Pakistan zulfiqar Babar play he will be also a big threat to SAf....If South africa want to win this series their spinners have to perform AS we see england spinners did well in india last year...The fact is that UAE pitches are so flat for fast bowlers that even Steyn & Co will not be able to win a test match for his team

  • ESPN on October 5, 2013, 11:57 GMT

    Playing in UAE is likening to playing on cement. It is going to be very tough on the players

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