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March 13, 2013
The two King Edward VII (KES) schoolboys on either side of Graeme Smith had to pull the South African Test captain up from the crouch position during the institution's war cry. Like most alumni, Smith seemed to have forgotten a few parts of the traditional song and dance that he had performed a decade and a half ago, so he was happy to be led. But in every other way, Smith was the one giving direction when he paid a visit to his alma mater on Wednesday morning.
Smith's trip was planned around visiting the nine members of the school's first team, who had been struck by lightning last month while putting covers on the pitch. He made a special trip to visit the one boy, Mphetho Bidli, who is still recovering in hospital.
Bidli, a 17-year old wicketkeeper, is the only one of the students who has not returned to school. He suffered cardiac arrest after being struck and was resuscitated by a paramedic, who was the father of the one of the other schoolboys.
Bidli lost his speech and mobile functionality in the accident. Although doctors were impressed with his progress - he has started to walk again - they cautioned that his recovery period will be lengthy. He sleeps with his cricket cap and bat close by and hopes to be able to play again.
Smith wished nothing but the same. "I hope my visit today can instill some fighting resilience into Bidli during this difficult period for him," he said. "From what I hear he has been incredibly brave and has improved quite a lot in the last couple of weeks, so that is very encouraging. He seems like a very motivated young man with a bright future ahead of him. It's humbling for me to see how positive and determined he is."
Smith addressed the school assembly and had a short question and answer session but admitted to feeling more nerves than at any of his previous "press conferences, functions and even when opening the batting." His main message was one of encouragement.
"I hope to inspire the boys after the traumatising ordeal last month, and more importantly bring the school closer together as they try to move forward positively."
For the 1000 children who attend the school, being in the presence of the Test captain left them star-struck. KES has produced many national sportsmen including Smith's former opening partner Neil McKenzie and Springbok winger Bryan Habana, all of whom have remained involved with the school after leaving. Smith is no different and spoke of the importance of going back to the place that "moulded" him into the person he is today.
"It's always a gratifying and humbling experience when old boys visit the school. That is the foundation that this school's culture is based on," David Lovatt, the school principal said. "The victims of the lightning accident were all budding cricketers so it makes it extra special that the support is coming from one of South Africa's greatest cricketers."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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