Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 3, 2014

Smith not bothered about pre-series jibes


The pre-series hype between South Africa and Australia was suitably simmering when Michael Clarke called Australia's bowling attack the "best in the world," when Pat Cummins recalled South Africa's batsmen being "scared," of Mitchell Johnson in the last series here in 2011-12 and when Peter Siddle earmarked Graeme Smith as the man his team "want to put pressure on."

But all the smoke was coming out of just one pot. The Australian one.

Smith changed that today, as South Africa got together for the first day of their preparation and he stoked the flames, albeit in a subtle manner. "When you play against Australia enough, you learn to sift through a lot of the... what's the word... the bull dot dot dot," Smith said, at the Wanderers with a wry smile.

"We just want to focus on ourselves and get ourselves ready. We don't feel the need to get involved in other things. We know this series will be decided on the quality of the cricket that will be played."

After months of administrative wrangling, dating back to the circumstances which led to a curtailed India visit, those words will taste like water on a scorching day to parched fans. Cricket, and maybe only cricket, can finally take centre stage.

Although this contest will take place against the backdrop of the ICC's proposed restructure, where Australia could assume an even greater position as haves and South Africa a lesser one as have-nots, it still has the makings of a classic clash. The hosts are the top-ranked Test team and have been for 18 months. They have not lost a series in four summers, dating back to 2008-09.

Then Australia were their conquerors. The same Australia they have not beaten in a series at home since readmission. The same Australia who appeared ripe for the picking a few months ago but have since recorded an Ashes triumph. The same Australia whose sternest challenge, it is widely thought, lies in how their batsmen can front up to the South African pack.

Australia's fighting talk has come either by or about their bowlers. One journalist asked Smith if he thought that was an indication Australia knew their batting was going to come under scrutiny. Smith shouldered arms, calling it a "good question," before offering a cryptic answer. "We are really motivated to expose certain things," he said.

Those things could well be weaknesses in the Australian line-up, who Smith thinks, like many others, will face "unique challenges" in South African conditions. "I've opened the batting in South Africa for long enough to know that it's going to be testing," he said. "The moving ball is something we have become accustomed to. Our bowling attack knows how to exploit conditions here."

Although Australian surfaces also have pace and bounce, Smith called them "a lot truer to bat on," because of the lack of sideways movement. "You can hit through the line with more confidence than you can in South Africa," he said. "Here's it is guys who have the ability to play the ugly knock that can change games."

Someone like Brad Haddin then, who saved Australia several times recently may find himself right at home. But so could someone like Michael Clarke, whose century in what was a solitary effort in Cape Town in November 2011, was an example of what he can do in tough situations.

Smith didn't say it but as much as the Australian attack will be gunning for him, his own bowlers will go after Clarke. The theory of felling the leader works both ways, after all, and the pressure on both of them will be at its peak.

"A large part of captaincy is not just about making a decision on the field. I have a lot of respect for Michael," Smith said. "It (the pressure) never goes away. I have been in the job for 11 years and every tour I know I have got to front up. When they are big series, it's heightened."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 8, 2014, 19:50 GMT

    Why do the Aussies always seem to have a chip on their shoulder? They obviously have an inferiority complex as they always need to be coming out with phrases such as "We are going to target this batsman or this batsman." I would have thought that you concentrate on taking 20 wickets to win a test much and whether you get the opener or no.11 out, each wicket is as important. Yes obviously getting a true batsman out is tougher and yields a better chance of winning a test match but there is too much talk and we all know what talk is......!

  • jake on February 7, 2014, 10:48 GMT

    To duidelik, Let me make it duidelijk to you about Pat Cummings. He is only 20 now and you will meet him again. He wasn't even near his best when he made mince meat of your team. That is this great team of yours that don't say much. They certainly didn't say much in that game. And we certainly don't need your respect because you will have an excuse waiting I'm sure. Anyway in all that, may the best team still win.

  • Gerald on February 6, 2014, 15:52 GMT

    On what do people base the statement "SA are on the way down". I mean I know Kallis has retired but we have a number of great young talents like de Kock who will be a fixture in the team by the end of 2014. Not to mention wonderful bowling option to replace Steyn in 3-4 years time. Seems to be a lot of wishful thinking about our impending demise. Desperate wishful thinking. Does it really upset the world that much that SA are no.1?

    Obviously another team could simply surpass us by producing more talent, but SA's team strength is not going to disintegrate anytime soon. So I ask again on what basis are we "on our own down"?

  • Justin on February 6, 2014, 9:55 GMT

    Looking forward to the series. Im more interested in how the likes of Amla and AB will bat - i think they have served SA well over the years and will be well valued wickets. Clarke is our best batsman however it was nice that during the Ashes all other top order batsman (except Bailey) got tons at some point - took some of the pressure off and showed good signs that our batting unit is progressing. Not much to say about both sides bowling attacks - they are both exceptional and will test the batsman.

  • Murray on February 6, 2014, 5:44 GMT

    con'td 4) Is Greame Smith still serious about all this ? (I suspect he's looking to captain Surrey and also Ireland as they become a Test Nation)...... further, how many innings can he play before breaking his hand on a Johnson ball ? I know we (aust) aren't that great a side, yet we currently have great commitment and focus. Other than skill, there are no questions at all about any in our team. They are fit and ready to go. Of course Watson or Harris might break down at any time, yet although they are most likely, anyone might. 2-0 Australia...... Centurion to be a rain affected ( only 250 overs played) nail biting draw..... blood on the pitch stuff.

  • Murray on February 6, 2014, 4:42 GMT

    On the face of it it's a no contest with South Africa winning easily........ However I see opportunities for Australia.

    1) How will SA replace Kallis ? ..... they can't, and it's even worse for them than we trying to replace Ponting. Kallis is simply irreplaceable by any one player anywhere in world for perhaps 20 years - he was most useful payer since Sobers.

    2) Is AB De Villiers hand right ? I know from personal experience that hand surgery is hard to recover from in cricket. Perhaps he'll be able to bat, but can he wicket keep ? 3) Is Dale Steyn both fit and not "past it". He bowled atrociously against India at Wanderers in December and looked so far past it as to say "gone". He (with typical sheer bloody mindedness) then recovered to destroy India's second innings on a benign Durban track. Since then he has not bowled at all until 2 days ago having "recovered"from a side strain that saw him returning in THE warm up match bowling half pace.

  • richard on February 5, 2014, 13:11 GMT

    Duidelik.... Mate as you say thrash us at home and we will get your respect, now that is obvious because our good performances have not received any.

  • Vaughan on February 5, 2014, 9:09 GMT

    @Sir_Francis.....good on yer mate! The only Aussie fan with a meaningful contribution on this thread! The Aussies have landed on our beautiful shores and have since been talking up a good match! We've heard about the Aussies having the no.1 bowling attack in the Mitchell Johnson will intimidate us....blah blah blah! Some guy called ''Patt'' even said he saw fear in the SA batter's eyes last time he was the way, Patt who???? Your lot from the 90s and early 2000s have had a lot to say both ON and OFF the field, but they could always back up their trash talking with great performances on the field (Warney, McGrath, etc.) This lot is riding on their reputation! This SA team is very different to the SA team of the 90s and early 2000s. They don't say much before a game, but trust me, come game time, they will be up in your faces on the field! (and there's no stump mike being switched on here. Lol!) First thrash us in our own backyard, and you will have my respect!

  • Jo on February 4, 2014, 19:33 GMT

    @InfiniteWhite: I don't have the answer now. Smith has loose tongue, so sometimes it may be the buildup. CSA seems do not allow too many loose tongues as CA, where any warner, bailey... name_any can open their loose mouth to the media, probably as a strategy.... But that is the part most of the world hate about CA.

  • Andre on February 4, 2014, 19:08 GMT

    Aussies have a great attack no doubt. But how can you look past Steyn and Philander on home conditions. Philander destroyed the Aussies in his first two test. Steyn has been the best in the world the ladt five years consistantly no doubt.