South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town February 28, 2014

South Africa on the precipice of history


Graeme Smith will wait until the Newlands Test is over before saying what he really thinks of David Warner's comments about how the hosts got the ball to swing in Port Elizabeth. But by then it will probably be too late.

One of three things will have happened: South Africa would have won the match, the series and Smith's men would become the first to beat Australia at home since readmission, Australia would have come back and upset the No.1 team in their own backyard or there will be a fighting draw that will leave everybody wanting a longer series. Whichever it is, the relevance of Warner's attack on South Africa will have disappeared by Wednesday.

What Smith did offer was: "He's becoming a little bit of a rent a quote. My thoughts are pretty strong. I'll probably end up saying something towards the end of the Test match." Smith agreed with the match referee's finding that Warner's remarks were "disrespectful."

That may be the real kernel of it. If there is one man in cricket who does not tolerate irreverence, it is Smith. As cricket's longest serving current Test captain, leader of the No.1-ranked side and an opening batsman who has maintained an average on or around 50 for most of his career despite playing in some of the toughest conditions, Smith has earned the right to some respect.

He thinks his team has too, which is why Warner's accusation stung bitterly. "As the coach said this just adds to the motivation but it's sad that it took the gloss off an extremely good win and a good spell of fast bowling," Smith said. "At the moment, my focus is on getting us prepared [for Newlands] and we're ready."

Ready to get their own back at Warner by ensuring they hold on to one of the chances he seems to inevitably offer them? Or ready to triumph in a Test that will make history for this South African side? Smith seemed too weary to ask.

He confirmed he had a challenging build up off the field - his young daughter had a small accident and although she is in perfectly fine, he has had a few sleepless nights - as well as on it. With no scores over 15 in the series so far and only 37 runs to his name in the two matches, Smith is, once again, under pressure to produce with the bat.

It's lead to speculation his time is up - speculation he has heard before and is used to answering by scoring in a big way - and he seems to be gearing up for another special. "I haven't contributed the way I am used to contributing," Smith admitted. "But mentally, I'm in in a good space. I let myself down a bit in Port Elizabeth. I know it's about getting through that initial period and then there will be opportunity."

Ultimately, for both Smith and South Africa, this match is about snatching a big chance and not letting go. Whether or not beating Australia at home is a massive part of the final frontier - winning a series on the subcontinent is probably the other part and with a tour to Sri Lanka this July, they will will have a chance at that before the year is out - this is as good an opportunity as they're going to get to leap over it.

South Africa have gone 14 series without being beaten and of those, they've won eight. Since August 2006, they've played 25 series and lost only one to Australia in the summer of 2008-09.

Beyond those numbers, South Africa have shown determination and resilience in the early parts of their run and started to display glimpses of ruthlessness in the latter. The first summer at home after becoming No.1, they won all five Tests they played, against New Zealand and Pakistan, and ensured none went to five days.

Before this series, they faced grueling comeback challenges and overcame them. After going 1-nil down in the UAE, they came back to level the series there and after falling eight runs short of what would have been a world-record chase of 458 against India in Johannesburg and settling for a draw, they sealed the series to send Jacques Kallis off in style.

All of those results combined have ensured they are as prepared as they can be to beat Australia at home, despite the sporadic schedule Smith keeps lamenting. "Our schedule has been a challenge already - it's been a challenge to have a nice run," he said.

That will continue to be an obstacle. After Wednesday, South Africa play no Tests for five months until July. Then they play two. Then they play no Tests for another month. Then they play one in Zimbabwe. Then they play none for another four months. Then they play three against West Indies.

The sizable spaces in the schedule means it's even more important to win against Australia now. The next time they visit these shores some of the current crop won't be around. It's not as dramatic as end of an era stuff but it's nearly there and although Smith does not want to go that far, he seems to know it.

"We've lost one series in eight years, that needs to be embraced," he said. " We have an exciting opportunity ahead us over the next five days. It would be a big feather in our caps if we can come back and win this series."

As for Warner, it seems there isn't much left to say after even his own captain voiced disapproval with his claims. "I've made clear how disappointed I was and am about his comments," Michael Clarke said. "At the appropriate time, I will catch up with Graeme and make it clear how I feel about that." And then, Warner may be the last thing on Smith's mind.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Android on March 1, 2014, 14:59 GMT

    so Warner has a big mouth more concerned about the appalling over rate ..Australia is on top lets slow the over rate down in the hope the batsman play a loose shot out of boredom. .it's also not fair on those paying good money to watch 90 overs of test cricket

  • Dummy4 on March 1, 2014, 7:57 GMT

    an hour ahead of what we all hope should be a wonderful test match all ican say is that david warner is a thrilling batsman, a great fielder and a motor mouth whose mere presence in test cricket entertains us all. don't muzzle him - just ctach him the next time he offers a chance. south africa are better than australia. now let's prove it again. come on proteas

  • Corne on March 1, 2014, 6:29 GMT

    Journalists are prodding Smith for an answer on Warner, so he abswers, I am sure Warner's antics won't be on their minds when they prepare for this match.

  • James on March 1, 2014, 2:58 GMT

    I'm afraid Warner's tactic appear to have done the job nicely, judging by this article and so many comments around here. Australia will be focused on the game. Maybe SA should do the same thing.

    BTW, don't look now, but Australia is also on the brink of history,- although this point seems to have escaped the writer.

  • David on March 1, 2014, 2:05 GMT

    Smith is a skipper with a huge record. SA cricket is rife with politics. From a young skipper he moulded the worlds number 1 team - by 22 country miles. What he would really like do do is give Warner the damned good hiding that kid deserves. (Kid, because he behaves like one.) And for all his big mouth Warner would last a nanosecond if Biff got hold of him. But he can't, & so he has pretty much kept his mouth shut. If 1 of his players said what Warner did, Smith would take him round back for a man to man.

  • Paul on February 28, 2014, 22:39 GMT

    Hats off to Michael Clarke, even if it did take a little too long to publicly express his disapproval of this buffoon's comments. But he has criticised him and deserves credit for that. However, when all the words have settled, the best way to pay Warner back is to thrash his team in the Newlands Test.

  • ESPN on February 28, 2014, 21:06 GMT

    I'm with you Dane...

  • ESPN on February 28, 2014, 15:13 GMT

    Come on man, get over it. Seriously, time to move on. Although what's smith's deal? I have a lot of respect for him, but why is he waiting till "near the end of the test?" to outline his "strong feelings". Sounds like a passive aggressive social media post to me.

  • Kendal on February 28, 2014, 14:43 GMT

    Ok so all the Warner defenders can now officially keep quiet. If Clarke is going out of his way to distance himself from the comments (flies in the face of this being a team Australia strategy) then you know. What I find most hilarious, after watching a replay of the PE test, is the way Warner went to complain to the umpire after Philander said something to him. Yeah, at least Vern keeps it on the field and doesn't try and trash people in the media when they are not around to defend themselves. When they are around, he runs and cries to the umpire. Classic bully/coward behaviour...

  • ESPN on February 28, 2014, 14:41 GMT

    Mountain meet molehill. Warner's comments were ill timed and lacked grace, but let's face it, he's not the poster for Mensa. He's been fined and disciplined, let's look forward to a cracking game of cricket that's played in the right spirit. For once, I'd like to see a test match go to the final session day five with all three results up for grabs. Who's with me?

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