South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth February 19, 2014

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Django on February 24, 2014, 19:34 GMT

    How many wickets did Johnson get in the second test?

  • Andrew on February 21, 2014, 2:25 GMT

    @ Greatest_Game on (February 20, 2014, 6:51 GMT) - so in other words, what you are saying is that Morkel got lucky 184 times? Must be the luckiest bowler to have ever played the game. :)

  • Ian on February 20, 2014, 9:05 GMT


    Johnson to Amla OUT LBW !! How do you do that only being able to bowl short ???

  • TK on February 20, 2014, 8:58 GMT

    For all you armchair fans, this is why the modern day batsmen with their tree trunk bats these days are not half as good as the olden day batsmen who would have faced Johnson without a helmet on a pitch most modern day batsmen would refuse to bat on

  • Peter on February 20, 2014, 7:55 GMT

    @Greatest_Game. Not sure why you waste your time responding to jonesy. He only posts for a reaction & never reads posts. He is our FFL & hello13, Cpt Meanster et al. As you no doubt have read, serious Aussie cricket followers have never begrudged your team's current status, which is attained over sustained form over a period time (home & away). We may have to disagree that we won't ever get back to #1, I personally believe we will get there a lot sooner than I was thinking a year ago, but the next 18 months will reveal more. Good to see test cricket stir up emotions so much, there is plenty to say about it.

  • jeff on February 20, 2014, 7:44 GMT

    The amount of negative posts against Australia and Johnson in particular on this site , especially by our Indian 'armchair experts' really makes you wonder if they actually watch cricket or just read the scores at the end of play . Still going on about beating us last year in India ... A team that was NOTHING like the squad at the moment. Aus is on a roll at the moment with a totally different mind set . You can see the confidence building in this TEAM . Team being the main thing , not a couple of individuals who preform every so often when conditions suit them like India have. Australia always look forward not back and are looking to make their own history . SA batting looks weak as water with Kallis not there and can`t see them making anywhere near 300 in any innings against us at the moment . With the batsman getting better every test they play it`s gonna be hard to see SA coming close to us .

  • Rahul on February 20, 2014, 7:22 GMT

    The BIG difference is this Mitch Version 2.0 is a nastiest beast in the park. Mitch is not out there to just take the wickets but he is after batsmen s blood in literal sense. A guy who can tonk someone like Amla who is one of the finest when it comes to test cricket flush on the grill can never be taken lightly. Smith is a proven performer and has nothing to prove but if he fails the Johnson test it will remain a black mark on his imperious record. It is up to Smith to set the tone and lead from the front. If he can counter Johnson threat it will go long way to instill the belief in his shaken and steered batsmen. Also dont forget that this SAF team is without their toughest Armour in Kallis. If this were a video game SAF will start with 25% less in their energy level. Time of seniors to stand up and be counted.

  • David on February 20, 2014, 7:01 GMT

    @ jonesy2 also wrote "Australia are the best team in the world and will be number 1 for the foreseeable 10-15 years at least, get used to it Graeme."

    Sorry, wrong again old chap. Don't they give you much access to the TV and the computer these days? I guess not. Must be tough missing out on cricket?

    SA are the no. 1 side, and Aus can win every match in this series and they won't catch up because they were sooooo bad, for sooooo long, that they are behind by several hundred country miles.

    Aus will be lucky to stay in the top 3. The world has moved on, & you were left behind. Really, if you did not know that Morkel had taken a test wicket, how much can you actually know about modern cricket, stuck in your room in that institution all day long. We will try to keep helping you as much as we can, but you will have to try to overcome the "Aussie Dominance" delusions you keep having. That ended years ago, and is not coming back.

    Keep on writing in & we will answer your questions as we can

  • Richard on February 20, 2014, 7:01 GMT

    @ Django - the title of this article probably got you a bit teary eyed and steamed up but to set the record straight do you know what a contradiction is? It's when you state something as fact and in one sentence and then discredit your own statement in the next. Logically, one sentence has much to be desired.

    I know you lot would love to write off the first Test thrashing at 'the fortress' as a minor aberration in an otherwise smooth sail from here on in, but I remind one and all that's what the Poms and many of you Saffers said about a weaker side back home before we won The Ashes 5-nil. Except the excuse that time was The 'Gabba is a fortress...

    As I write the largest betting exchange in the world has the draw as clear favourite, Australia and South Africa dead even, second.

  • David on February 20, 2014, 6:51 GMT

    @ jonesy2 - we know you have great difficulties with your special needs, so I researched your question "has morkel ever taken a test wicket? I seriously am not even sure."

    To date Morkel has taken 184 test wickets. I hope that answers your question & solves the muddled puzzle that has been hurting your head.

    As a bonus I looked up which batsmen Morkel has dismissed the most. I thought that would help cheer you up. Morkel dismissed Andrew Strauss & Mike Hussey 8 times, Cook & Ponting 6 times, KP 5 times, Dhoni & Dravid 4 times, Clarke, Bell, Sidle, Trott, Gayle, Gambhir, Vijay & a host of others 3 times, & from then the list gets soooo long I cant go thro them all, but amusingly he nailed Johnson twice.

    In 11 matches against Aus he has taken 38 wickets. I guess you don't watch much crickert, or follow it, because you would have known that Morkel has been knocking over Aussies since 2008. I guess that was a long time ago for you?

    Hopefully you'll catch up on modern cricket one day?

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