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October 11, 2007
Not many people are likely to remember Graeme Smith's 12th Test hundred. It was an almighty struggle, one he generally had to "grind for". He was unbeaten on 75 overnight, but reached his hundred only on the stroke of lunch. That took him 90 balls, with meager help from one boundary.
Not that any batsman forgets a century, but Smith is likely to remember this one with a special fondness. It was his first for 17 Tests, a stretch of barrenness running back to May 2005. "It's been a while since I got a hundred," he said. "In all forms of the game I've gotten 80s and 90s so it was really nice to push through the 40s and 90s and getting through to that hundred."
It was also his first in the subcontinent, little, grim battles won and lost against spin, but the ultimate war was fully won. Both Danish Kaneria and Abdur Rehman were tight in the morning; Smith was beaten in particular by Kaneria several times. "For me it was really special. A left-hander, second innings, I had to grind for that especially over those first two hours. Danish and Rehman bowled really well, especially to me as there was a lot happening out of the rough."
It wins pride of place with his double hundreds in England and a matchwinning hundred against New Zealand. "Having grown up in South Africa where spin is a lot easier to play, you spend your life thinking about facing fast bowling. So for me to go and score a hundred on a turning wicket is a big leap as a batter."
Though Smith and South Africa picked up the scoring slightly after lunch, they never pushed with the same thrust they might have been expected to. Only 57 runs came in the first session, but Smith acknowledged that Pakistan had a hand in that as well. "They bowled well. Danish and Rehman made life very difficult and we would've loved to have scored at least four runs an over."
But these are mere quibbles, irrelevant to the story of South Africa's dominance of this Test and series. Make no mistake, South Africa have been the happier side at the end of most days of cricket in this series and today bucked no trend. "We're in a very, very strong position," Smith said. "For a team to score four runs an over on the last day, when it's turning, reverse swinging and at any stage of the game we can tighten up the game and really close it down, the pressure's right on Pakistan."
Still, an intriguing day's play awaits and not just because it is Inzamam-ul-Haq's last in international cricket. Younis Khan was in a mood not far removed from the one that brought the Karachi hundred and though a win is improbable, a draw, with nine wickets in hand is more achievable.
"Obviously another wicket towards the close would've made us happier," said Smith. "We were a little bit flat in the afternoon, but we make sure our heads are in the right place tomorrow and if we come out here and mean business, we can go a long way to winning this Test series 2-0."