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February 3, 2014
Smith on South Africa without Jacques Kallis
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 correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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