Smith confident despite brief preparation
Graeme Smith does not feel underprepared ahead of next week's Test series against Pakistan despite being out of action since May and batting for only 30 minutes in the warm-up fixture against Pakistan A.
Smith was out lbw for 2 in the first innings of the match and did not make an appearance in the second because of workload management. South Africa chose to juggle their line-up to expose the middle and lower order to the new ball and spinners.
It leaves Smith with only two short stints of match time - he played a warm-up game for Cobras last week, in which he also scored 2, and the Sharjah warm-up - ahead of South Africa's first Test series in seven months.
Smith is confident the lack of game time will not affect the way he plays when it counts the most. "I've been following the programmes in place to make sure I can get out on the field on Monday," he said. "That is the ultimate goal, to lead in a Test match."
Those plans include careful management of his return from injury. Smith was on a personalised training schedule over the winter and made incremental progress as the series approached. On departure from South Africa he said he had "upped his cricket skills" in the last two weeks so it was about "getting mentally ready" in the UAE but he wanted to "maximise the preparation available to me".
One interpretation of that would have been to get another innings under his belt but Smith explained overload was not the answer: "Not batting today was just a management process. I've had major surgery five months ago so it's about following protocols and listening to the medical team."
He admitted he would have preferred to bat longer in his first innings but did not read too much into being the only member of the top five who did not score a half-century. "I would have liked more time out there," he said. "But it's not the first time it has happened to me and it won't be the last. That's cricket. You take the good with the bad."
Later that afternoon, Smith held a long net session with coach Russell Domingo and he is certain to have a couple more before the Test. He has been working on "quite specific" aspects of his game which include, "maybe 10 to 15 minutes with the new ball and then some spin bowling" but said it's "no different" to the way he has trained in the past. "Having toured the subcontinent and the UAE before, I understand what needs to be done," he said.
This is not the first lengthy injury layoff Smith has had. His ankle has caused him problems in the past, as recently as before last year's England series when he did not play for a while before the Tests but returned with a century in his 100th game. "Last year, I didn't spend a huge amount of time in the middle before the series but I felt good about my game," he said. "You don't get it perfect like that all the time but the motivation is there."
Smith is not the only member of the side making a comeback. Jacques Kallis has not played any cricket since the IPL, after opting out of the Champions Trophy squad, and JP Duminy's ruptured Achilles has kept him out of whites since the England tour of July-August 2012. Claude Henderson, South Africa's spin consultant, said Kallis had two net sessions before declaring himself ready for the Tests and Smith knows his premier allrounder is good to go. "Jakes has the experience - he knows what it takes to come back from a layoff."
Duminy's form - in the one-day format, the unofficial Test against India A and this match - suggests he is also ready to get on with the job. "JP has played a fair amount of cricket since his injury," Smith said. "Watching him bat in the nets, it looked like he had had a whole season out there. I am very happy with where everybody is."
Although a quick glance through the scorecard of the warm-up match will illustrate that it was nothing more than a glorified middle practice, Smith said the team were able get used to the conditions, particularly the temperature. "Apart from the match, we had two pretty tough training sessions and a lot of other work in the heat," he said. "There has been a fair amount of acclimatising. We are all feeling a little more settled under the heat than we were earlier."
The squad will travel to Abu Dhabi tomorrow and Smith hopes they will settle in quickly and get ready to do what he knows they can. "This team has the ability mentally to step it up going into a big series." History has shown Smith does too, whether he has had game time or not.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent