South Africa v Australia, 1st Twenty20, Cape Town October 13, 2011

Smith's unhappy return

Graeme Smith's return to international cricket proved to be an unhappy one, as he was out for a duck, dropped a catch and watched an Australian win

A short while before the Twenty20 match between South Africa and Australia started at Newlands, the big screen outside main gate was beaming down a replay of the Rugby World Cup quarter-final between the same two countries. Either the organisers wanted to incite the locals into a heightened form of frenzy against the Australians and remind the cricketers that they needed to exact revenge or they just picked the wrong channel, but it was a timely reminder of the rivalry that was about to take place.

Despite the shortened series and the fact that it was starting with what is still considered the hit-and-giggle format of the game, the conflict started fiercely when the man who led South Africa to glory against Australia strode out to bat. Graeme Smith had plenty to prove when he took first guard against Doug Bollinger and it set the tone for an intriguing over.

His home crowd, who had not seen him in the flesh since January and in national kit since March, welcomed him warmly. Fans and critics alike perked up, interested to see if the layoff, his marriage and new found calmness and his attitude to improving his form, had had any effect. Bollinger's left arm would answer all of those questions.

After spraying his first delivery wide, his second moved sharply away from Smith, who was careful not to feather it as it carried through to Matthew Wade. The next delivery beat Smith but he got a defensive bat on the following one. A bouncer was offered next, rattling Smith a little, and then the former captain's feet turned to lead as he did not move to a delivery that was pitched up and struck him on the pad after taking the inside edge. The heat cooled with another wide but came back even more fiercely when Smith prodded outside off and got an inside edge which found its way onto his stumps.

A superb first over, apart from the two wides, from Bollinger, exposed Smith's biggest weakness, which had clearly not gone away. It was Zaheer Khan who first made Smith look like a left-hander's bunny and Mitchell Johnson whose pace helped contribute to it but it is Bollinger who has, for now, rubber-stamped the theory. Smith's technical flaw has not faded and it is something he will need to address quickly if he hopes to continue contributing in the ways he said he would like to, to the national team.

A bad night got worse for Smith when he dropped a catch in the slips in the second over of Australia's innings. Morne Morkel got Shane Watson, who was on two at the time, to drive and the ball came off the edge. It went high to Smith's left but he got his body in an awkward position and ended up putting both hands above shoulder height to try and clasp it. It would have needed a more decisive step to the side to take comfortably and was not a gift by any means but it left Smith red-faced.

He was banished to the cover boundary for the middle portion of Australia's innings and redeemed himself with a few careful saves on the rope but that will not have changed the fact that Smith had an unhappy return to the international game. He is well aware that his place in the limited-overs teams is no longer certain and that, like every other player, he will fight for it and the fight did not start well for Smith, who has shown himself to a brave man, capable of much better.

JP Duminy and Pat Cummins put on excellent displays as the future for both sides was shown to be talent laden. The pair took the fight to each other, Duminy with his superb timing and placement and Cummins with his use of the slower ball.

The contest became even spicier in the first over of Australia's innings, when Morkel ran out David Warner with a direct hit. Australia's openers have been the talking point in the build-up to the series and although one them did not come off, the other one did much to take the game away from South Africa. Watson regained some of what he lost during the Champions League and punished a bowling attack that looked rusty - and that does not apply only to Theron - at times and struggled with their areas.

South Africa will feel they were a little undercooked, having not had much preparation but what stood out was that they lacked that extra something that Australia have had since they got here. While Hashim Amla, in his first outing as skipper, has exuded calm, Cameron White has talked about fight and competition and the two sides emulated their respective captain's words. South Africa did, at times, take things too easy while Australia, as illustrated by Bollinger, Cummins and Watson with both bat and ball maintained their competitive edge for most of the 40 overs.

The rivalry was not as fluent as usual, but there were moments that held the same intensity. When Theron stepped up to the bowl the final over, there was an air of anticipation that he would defend six runs. He has done it before in the domestic competition. But this was a step up and proved a step too far. South Africa have two days to figure out how to bridge that gap and, if shown a few more replays of that fateful rugby match, may find that the answer lies in how much motivation they can muster.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on October 15, 2011, 5:26 GMT

    South Africa selectors are absolutely mad, why would you not choose jaques rudolph? He is in the form of his life and has been playing all winter, scoring endless Hundreds in one day and 4 day, then to top it off he has already scored 2 hundreds in the new domestic season including 210 in the current game he's playing. Smith has been in horrid form and has not played any cricket......and especially david miller why wud u choose him, he cannot bat good. Very poor selections, u cannot expect to win if u have not got the best XI on the field.

  • Daniel on October 14, 2011, 10:06 GMT

    @Gupta.Ankur, Smith wasnt captain - Amla was. Though you make a good point. Neither player deserves their spot in the t20 side right now, as neither have performed recently in this form of the game, and one can make a case that Amla, for all his talent has never done so. A very poorly selected team by SA, not made for t20 at all

  • Anver on October 14, 2011, 5:41 GMT

    After a long break from cricket & lack of match practice is the main cause for Smith's poor showing in 1st T20........

  • ankur on October 14, 2011, 4:45 GMT

    Many a times a Captain's post is considered so important, that people forget that he must perform as player first.....

    Smith, in my opinion did not deserve to play yesterday and i think he must play only tests from here on in....

  • Roo on October 14, 2011, 3:38 GMT

    Tough knocking your own team... Smith has proven a very capable batsman, just look at his record... problem with the T20 there was no warm-up games to prepare both teams for local conditions... seems a blind spot internationally... The game was close and could have gone either way - with the dropped catches being fairly influential... Next game should be better...

  • Johan on October 14, 2011, 2:48 GMT

    I think that a very 'rusty' performance was on the cards for SA, very few were on top of their game, but its T20, not cricket, so all is forgiven. Let's see how the dice roll in JHB on Sundag, then we can get to the bussiness end of this short tour. Hang in there Graeme, if it does not work for you on the day, you cannot force it, better luck next time! GO the Saffers!

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