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October 4, 2013
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."
'Expecting a big challenge in unknown conditions' - Smith
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 correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge