Smith unbowed in Johnson battles
Graeme Smith could spend the next 12 hours hearing the crack the bones in his hand made when Mitchell Johnson broke it and wonder when he will have to hear that sound again. But he'd rather spend it thinking about the twin cuts he smacked off Johnson in Perth in December 2008, which took him to his century and set up South Africa's win. Or about the quiet off-side single he took in Cape Town in 2011 after hammering Johnson for four earlier in the over, which gave him another century in another match South Africa won.
The score, as it stands, is level. Johnson has broken Smith's hand twice in matches in which Australia have defeated South Africa. And Smith has scored two hundreds against an Australia attack featuring Johnson, both times taking his milestone runs off the left-armer and both times in matches where South Africa triumphed. It is those he is going to remember in the lead up to the second Test.
"I can go and watch some videos of scoring hundreds against Mitchell, which I've done," Smith said, when asked whether he will do anything specific to prepare for his next encounter with Johnson. And he has asked the rest of his line-up to do the same. "I think every player here has had success against this attack and not so long ago. It's important not to get caught up in the hype.
"Obviously Mitchell has bowled extremely well and bowled aggressively, and we all know that creates headlines, creates stories, creates fanfare. There's a huge amount of respect in our team for someone who is performing well. But it's important not to get caught up in that. We've had a general group discussion on areas where we want to improve. We haven't watched any more video or anything different than what we would have done before the first Test. Our mindsets and our gameplans are good. Ultimately it's about walking the walk now."
Smith's level-headed approach may smack of someone simply trying to put on a brave face but it has its roots in a good point. Johnson has played 10 Tests against South Africa and taken 54 wickets at a better average (25.66) than his overall one (27.50), which is evidence he has something over them. But there is nothing else that conclusively proves that Johnson has a stranglehold over South Africa.
The 10 matches he has featured in against South Africa are split straight down the middle, with Australia's winning five and South Africa the other five. That means South Africa have as many good memories of playing against Johnson as they do bad ones, which is why Smith does not want to overplay the Johnson factor.
He also doesn't want to place too much emphasis on Australia being some sort of nemesis for South Africa. Given that they have not beaten them in a series at home since readmission, it is clear South Africa do have an extra bone to pick with Australia but Smith does not want them labelled as South Africa's toughest opposition.
He claims they have had to come back against equally daunting teams in the past, most recently in the UAE. "Obviously Australia are playing really well at the moment - they're hot and they're in form which is always a challenge," he said. "But Pakistan in the UAE - going one-nil down there and being able to bounce back in conditions that South African teams have generally found tough was also a challenge."
Then, South Africa's line-up also struggled against a left-armer in the uber-tall Mohammed Irfan before Zulfiqur Babar and Saeed Ajmal outspun them. Although the margin of defeat in Abu Dhabi was a hefty seven wickets, South Africa were already clawing their way back by the second innings of that match. They nipped out three quick wickets in the Pakistan chase to show signs of improvement ahead of their series-levelling win in Dubai.
This time, they are dealing with something different. Johnson delivered a knockout blow in the first innings with his 7 for 68 and South Africa were still dazed in the second. He took another five. AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla are the only two batsmen who seem to be able to deal with him. The rest played shots they would rather forget, which led one Australian journalist to ask whether there was some credibility on the line for South Africa's batsmen going into this match.
Smith brushed it off as an overreaction, the same way he has with most things in the last few days. "One dismissal doesn't make you lose credibility," he said. "Anyway, I've made a career out of looking ugly."
The South Africa captain will think about that, too, before the first ball is bowled at St George's Park tomorrow. He has turned the ungainly mow into a shot that can win Test matches and he will need it more than ever over the next five days.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent