South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Centurion, 2nd day

Nice to see you again, Mr Smith

Graeme Smith has plenty of memories of facing Mitchell Johnson. Some are good. Some are painful. In their first head-to-head of this series the fast bowler came out on top in double quick time

Jarrod Kimber at Centurion Park

February 13, 2014

Comments: 17 | Text size: A | A

February, 2014

The ball punches the pitch, and cracks into Graeme Smith who seems to react only as the ball leaves him. It loops up slowly and the crowd make noise accordingly. It is just off the pad. Not out. It is the first ball Smith faces from Mitchell Johnson.

____________

There is not much time to think between the ball leaving Johnson's hand and the batsman having to deal with it. It is like a camera flash, or a political back-flip.

You can have a plan, you can think it through, but the ball just comes out of his hand and you react. There are some batsmen who revel in that. See ball, hit ball.

Not enough time for clear rational thought. There is not enough time to think about past deliveries, or history, it just happens.

January, 2009

A full ball that that should never have damaged anyone, but spat up and took the left massive hand of Smith. His hand disappeared like he had been zapped by a ray gun. For a second Smith was lost, the pain confused him, he was walking around in a circle towards point. And only then did he eventually find the culprit, which had gone off to fine leg to allow him to get off strike. But the damage was done, and he would only come back into to bat at No. 11, with a broken hand.

____________

There is a bowling machine that players have used to try and learn the mystery and tricks of certain players, the Pro Batter. You can face Morne Morkel, Lasith Malinga or even Mitchell Johnson.

But you can't program it with superhuman confidence. You can't give it artificial menace. And you can't play against it like it is a real force of nature. It is a computer game with real elements. Nothing more. All you can do is try and pick up a few tricks that you hope the next time you play will come in handy.

South Africa have used the Pro Batter, they have also faced Johnson at his old best. They should know how to play him. Smith has faced him more than most. They have survived him at the WACA, after he took 8 for 61, they milked him on their chase beyond 400 to win, they have played him ten times. They know him.

Well, they knew the old him. This new one is relentless and brutal, like a zombie girl group, or a current affairs reporter. This Mitchell is worse and better than anything that can be made with CGI or the old model.


Graeme Smith could only fend a Mitchell Johnson short ball to the slips, South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Centurion, 2nd day, February 13, 2014
Graeme Smith could only fend a Mitchell Johnson short ball to the slips - at least his hand remained intact © Getty Images
Enlarge

March, 2009

Off the ground, looking at point, one hand off the bat, the right hand protecting his throat and being smashed into the bat handle. That is how Smith found himself as he just tried to survive a delivery. The ball did not take his wicket, he did end up in hospital.

____________

Smith is respected all over the world. He has scored almost 10,000 Test runs. He has done that at almost an average of 50. He has 27 Test centuries. He is the captain and leader of the world's best Test team.

Smith is South Africa's top order monolith. Strong, calm and reliable. The young warrior who took over the side and pushed them higher than they had ever been. All with a bottom handed technique that makes even his best shots look like a solid uppercut.

His place in the world of cricket is safe and secure, and he could retire tomorrow and be remembered for decades.

In nine Tests he has been dismissed by Johnson five times and sent to hospital twice. Today Johnson tried to do both in one ball.

February, 2014

The ball leaves the pitch with a mission to break the jaw or eye socket of Smith. There is no time. There is nowhere to hide. There is no way out. Smith can ever be hit in the face, or try and play the ball. His body is doing in one direction, his face another. His bat is jerking upwards not like a cricket shot, but like he is fending off a surprise Pterodactyl attack. The ball hits the bat, more by pure chance than design. The ball flies high, and all of the slips, (there are a few, but it seems like hundreds), arch their necks up at once, and watch it float behind them. Shaun Marsh chases, and chases, while the batsmen easily cross, and at the last minute he reaches the ball to barely take the catch.

____________

Graeme Smith faced two balls from Mitchell Johnson today.

Jarrod Kimber was 50% of the Two Chucks, and the mind responsible for cricketwithballs.com

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (February 14, 2014, 11:52 GMT)

Beautiful writing. Ai Felton I was there.

Posted by ThreePIllarTales on (February 14, 2014, 9:56 GMT)

Biff just did not anticipate the bouncer's speed but it looked scary..right in front of the throat. The ball that took Faf was more dangerous given it was just off a good length. AB is a great fighter but I reckon the mental damage is done after that last over. Imagine what it does to a tailender's mind. To think there are three proven youngsters in Australia capable of 150kph in waiting..along with Muirhead's lovely leg spin, .Steve Smith will have a great attack when he takes over from Pup. Reckon Dale and co will come out next innings with even more nostril fumes! Going to be a great series !

Posted by ModernUmpiresPlz on (February 14, 2014, 5:50 GMT)

@ chicko1983 Philander never got anywhere near high 140s, and at the end of day 1 he was bowling in the 120s.

Definitely has something to do with his action and the way it comes off the pitch. Morkel was about as fast as MJ, and Harris was bowling quick too, hit about 148 I think. Never looked anywhere near as threatening as MJ though.

Posted by headphonedelephants on (February 14, 2014, 4:09 GMT)

Thud, Bang, Boom and OUT!

Posted by __PK on (February 14, 2014, 1:55 GMT)

Rahul_78 I agree with one exception. AB had the fear, too, in that last over, when Johnson hit him. But there was no time left to exploit it. Until tomorrow morning. Pleasant dreams, AB.

Posted by OneEyedAussie on (February 14, 2014, 1:22 GMT)

I really do feel for Smith. Last time when Johnson battered him he was at the peak of his career - now he's 33 yo. I'm sure those reflexes will have slowed down a bit and if anything Johnson has gotten faster and more menacing.

Posted by CustomKid on (February 14, 2014, 1:11 GMT)

headphonedelephants on (February 13, 2014, 17:37 GMT) Classic, I love Biff but you are spot on that was one reply he'll not want to watch!

Posted by LoungeChairCritic on (February 14, 2014, 0:29 GMT)

@Rahul-78 Good point. I agree everybody struggles with extreme pace. I do think that bowlers with slingy actions seem faster than they are. In saying that Morne Morkel on his day is frightening. With Mitch in this mood, I do think there is going to be a few bruised ego's. South Africa are fighters, so I am sure they will dish out what they receive.

Posted by   on (February 13, 2014, 23:11 GMT)

An average of 50, five test double centuries, 22 other centuries. As an opener - that is bloody impressive. Leaving aside his performance as captain which is pretty good too (though frankly I think I'd be able to do pretty well with the talent SA commands).

Remember how ugly Michael Clarke's first innings dismissal was in Brisbane? Second innings century set the tone for series dominance. Do not write Smith or SA off. They are fiercely competitive.

Posted by chicko1983 on (February 13, 2014, 21:56 GMT)

@rahul_78: philander got up to high 140s, steyn touched 145, and morkel almost made 150 and probably averaged similar to Johnson's speed. However, only Rogers looked bothered by their pace but I be the will be ok in the second inning now he knows the line they will bowl. Aussie batsmen are the best equipped and most fearless batsmen by a mile. Reason being that we have quick hard wickets in Australia and plenty of bowlers averaging in the 140s in the first class domestic scene. Pattinson, hazel wood, starc, cummins, coulter-Nile, cutting, McDermott etc

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