Graeme Smith earns some redemption
For Graeme Smith, batting has lately been a little like driving on a road pockmarked with potholes. Every time he has tried to move out of first gear, he has hit a bump and stalled. But in Port Elizabeth he finally found a smooth track on which he could accelerate freely.
After three failures, Smith's broad shoulders would have felt the weight of expectations and they would have stooped a little lower when the innings began, as they have throughout the series. This time though, it was not Smith who departed early, but his partner. Hashim Amla got a leading edge back to Doug Bollinger and trudged to the dressing room without a run on the board.
Jacques Kallis came to the crease and eased any jangling nerves Smith might have had by dealing with the next 11 deliveries. By the time Smith had to face a ball, Kallis had already hooked Johnson for six and driven him for four. There was still stress, as Smith had to take guard against a left-arm seamer in Doug Bollinger, who started with a leg-side wide. Instead of following it up with a delivery that would undo Smith, as he did in the T20, Bollinger hurled down a chest-high short delivery that Smith evaded. Then, Smith was off the mark with a prod to point.
Kallis' presence at the other end allowed Smith the luxury of batting himself in. While Smith nudged, Kallis drove, while Smith clipped off the pads, Kallis cut over point, taking the pressure off the former captain. Kallis' strike-rate was close to 100 in the early stages of the innings, allowing Smith's to slither down to little more than 50.
Smith's first four, a drive through the covers, was the most fluent shot he played in four innings but he did not get carried away by it and was willing to grind. He started getting bat to ball in a more confident fashion and was not rattled when he had to defend. Even when a Watson delivery kept low and passed the off stump, Smith was unmoved.
It was in the 11th over that Smith showed he might be well and truly back. He had survived the left-armers' assault, been beaten by Cummins' pace and battled to 13 off 27 balls, with awkward, but at least, apparent foot movement. Cummins bowled a fairly wide delivery outside off, Smith had to reach but he pushed it through the covers with such power that his intent was clear. In the same over, he drove through the offside again, the second time with more conviction and better footwork.
The change in Smith after those two shots was evident. He started strutting rather than shuffling at the crease and was confident enough to argue with Mitchell Johnson when the bowler stood in Smith's way as he tried to complete a run. Words were exchanged and fingers were pointed but Smith was clearly the victor when Johnson missed a simple chance to run him out two balls later. So wayward was Johnson's hurl that the ball did not land on the pitch.
Getting under the skin of the man who had broken his hand twice in the past allowed Smith to grow more confident. All of Smith's six fours were scored on the off side, a remarkable feat, given his preference for scoring on the leg. He made room for himself, danced down the track and even hustled between the wickets with rare speed.
The innings meant a lot to Smith, who looked up to the sky after reaching his half-century. For the first time this season, a home crowd was on its feet for him and there was no jeering. He acknowledged them warmly.
The reverse-sweep was the one shot Smith could not pull off. He was beaten when he first tried it against Steve Smith and then caught behind when he attempted it again off the same bowler. The umpire originally gave it not out but the review showed Smith had gloved it. He walked off the field having given away the chance to do something big, but he had done enough for now.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent