Graeme Smith back to competitive cricket
Graeme Smith has successfully completed his first competitive outing since May, turning out for his franchise, Cobras, in a warm-up match against Indian side Madhya Pradesh at Newlands. Although the South African Test captain scored just two runs, he fielded in the slips and reported a clean bill of health after 21 weeks out of the game, which bodes well for the upcoming series against Pakistan.
Earlier this year, Smith had to cut short his stint at Surrey due to the recurrence of an ankle problem and returned to Cape Town for surgery. Doctors discovered the condition was actually a fracture of the heel bone. Smith was operated on and had two pins inserted. He was on crutches for eight weeks before he could begin any physical activity.
He has had a multi-disciplinary team of experts around him including a personal trainer, biokineticist and physiotherapist, and has made steady progress. Smith's rehabilitation has included running on an anti-gravity treadmill and, more recently, regular cricket activity.
"He has been working really hard with us in the nets," Cobras coach Paul Adams told ESPNcricinfo. "And he has made good progress. He looks ready to go." Smith, with the South African side, will depart for Dubai on Friday evening for a series of two Tests, five ODIs and two Twenty20s against Pakistan.
"As things stands now, Graeme is on track to play," Mohammad Moosajee, the team manager who is also a medical doctor, said. "We are happy with the progress he has made so far. We have approached every week with a plan in place to get him to ready for the series. Ideally you always want more time, but he has worked well. We have been careful to monitor him at every step, so we don't overload him."
The Tests series is South Africa's first since they whitewashed Pakistan 3-0 at home in February and will be an important assessment of their grip on the No. 1 ranking because of the conditions. This will be South Africa's first series in subcontinent conditions since earning the Test mace and they are expecting a time as tough as England, who were also No. 1 when they went to the UAE early 2012 but were blanked 0-3 by Pakistan.
South Africa also have a proud record to uphold. They have not lost a Test series on the road in seven years, since they were beaten in Sri Lanka in 2006. Smith has led them throughout that time and has previously said he looks forward to extending that run in the future.
His return to the crease will be welcome news for South Africa's Test ambitions, and it will also bolster their ODI campaign after a forgettable time at both the Champions Trophy and in Sri Lanka. Smith was ruled out of both series with the same injury concern and South Africa did not fare well at all. They were booted out of the Champions Trophy at semi-final stage by England and crashed to a 4-1 defeat in Sri Lanka. Although he is not captain in that format, he will partner Hashim Amla at the top of the order to add stability and experience in what is still a developing unit.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent