South Africa v India, 2nd Test, Durban, 5th day December 30, 2006

'Every guy put his hand up' - Smith

Listen to Graeme Smith's press conference



Graeme Smith - 'We had a good chat within the team and every guy put up his hand' © AFP

If there was one moment that encapsulated South Africa's desperation to win this match, it was the sight of Andrè Nel running all the way back to long-on in pursuit of an Anil Kumble push off his bowling. Character and effort alone don't guarantee victory, but you won't go far wrong with such men in the side.

Nel was a superb foil for the day's undoubted star - Makhaya Ntini. His seven-over burst either side of lunch more or less left India praying for bad light to survive, and the combination of pace, rhythm and sharp bounce that so troubled the Australians earlier this year was once again in ample evidence. He'd finished that three-Test series with 19 wickets at 22.36; after two Tests against India, he already has 14 scalps at 15.92, despite being below his best at the Wanderers.

Ntini came to the press conference munching on some grapes, having spent time between celebrations chatting to his young son. As always, his time in front of the microphone was never less than entertaining. "Just one," he said with that trademark grin when asked what had been the difference between the Wanderers and Kingsmead. "Mr. Ian Bishop was not there. He gives me momentum and pumps me up so that I must go out and do it. I am not going to tell you what it is. I don't reveal my secrets."

"Do you actually believe a word he says?" asked Bishop later, with an incredulous look on his face. "We are brothers," Ntini had said. "We had a chat in the dressing-room." According to Bishop, the chat didn't go much beyond finding the rhythm that makes Ntini's bowling such a handful on these surfaces, and having turned the beat around, it was the Indian batsmen who were left to make the discordant noises.

"I enjoyed the wickets of Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly the most," said Ntini once the wisecracks were out of the way. "I enjoy bowling to left-handers, and like giving a tough time to Ganguly."

The final stages of the game were marred by Graeme Smith accusing Sreesanth of play-acting - he was struck a painful blow on the right arm - and by the batsmen trying to influence the umpires to offer the light. Ntini feigned indignation when he was asked what he had said to Sreesanth after the two met at the bowler's end following an on-drive for four.

"He said he couldn't see the ball," said Ntini with a straight face. "But when I bowled a half-volley, he hit me for a four. I asked him: 'You say you can't see the ball, and now you hit me for four?'"

Smith, whose captaincy might have been on the line had the result here been an adverse one, couldn't praise his main strike bowler enough. "Makhaya has come back superbly," he said. "It's the hallmark of a very good cricketer. When the team really needs you, you put your hand up and stand up. Makhaya delivered for us, and was backed up superbly by the other guys."

But this triumph was about far more than individuals. Ashwell Prince's first-innings century laid the foundation, but Smith's gritty half-century at the second time of asking was just as crucial. "Among all my wins as captain, this one stands out. Knowing what was going around the team, the light problem in this Test, it has to rank as my best win and there are a few guys who have been longer than me in the dressing room who feel the same. We performed well as a unit," said Smith, deflecting attention away from his own fortunes. "We were honest enough about the fact that we didn't play well as a team at the Wanderers. We had a good chat within the team and every guy put up his hand, said where we needed to improve, and also pointed out the areas where we could attack them."

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo

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