Graeme Smith was more than happy after this nine-wicket thumping of India at SuperSport Park. Not only did his side wrap up the series 4-0, but he managed to put his personal travails behind him with a punishing 85-ball 79. Most of the credit though went to the bowling attack led by Shaun Pollock, who got Man-of-the-Series honours after picking up 10 wickets at 8.3 and walloping 86 runs in even time.
"Our bowlers were fantastic," said Smith after the game. "Throughout the series, they have been magnificent. The fielding backed it up. I thought it was a pretty good wicket. We just bowled well, and applied the pressure. We had game-plans for each batter, and we gave them nothing. Maybe they felt the pressure of the last three games on their shoulders."
His opening partnership with Loots Bosman never ignited, but paired with AB de Villiers at Centurion, it was a different story, with 173 runs clattered from 172 balls. "AB has shots all around the wicket, and he's gained a lot of experience in one-day cricket," said Smith. "He was superb in the field, and we pushed him higher up the order and he performed. We gelled well with each other. Our games match each other."
After one run in three previous one-day outings, Smith had been under a pretty dark cloud himself, and he admitted as much. "Obviously there was a lot of pressure, there was a lot of stress. I needed to get a start, and I got that today. And I'm still in the top three in the one-day rankings, so that means I can play."
Newspaper reports had been doing the rounds suggesting that Smith's place in the side was in jeopardy, and after this riposte, he took aim at the media. "A lot of it [the talk] comes from you guys," he said, with a rueful smile. "The support staff, the convenor [of the selection panel], the [Cricket South Africa] CEO and my team-mates have all been behind me. It was nice to come through, and I want to thank all my team-mates."
Having succumbed to Zaheer Khan four times in succession, including Friday's Pro20 game, he managed to avoid him in the initial stages, with AB de Villiers hogging the strike from Zaheer's end. By the end, Smith had redressed the balance a little, clouting Zaheer for a six over long-on as the game entered its climactic stages.
"He's bowled very well and you've got to give credit to him," said Smith. "He said he's worked hard on his bowling and it's paid off for him. When he came back today, we were in a commanding position. We wanted to finish it the way we wanted to."
As for Pollock, who bowled 48 dot-balls in a stupendously accurate spell, he claimed that there was no big secret behind his renaissance as a bowler. "I try and keep it as simple as possible," he said. "Sometimes you get the edges and the wickets, and sometimes Makhaya [Ntini] is going to get the wickets. We work well as partnership. It's not about the figures, but how it all ends up."
He slammed a few big shots of his own to accelerate South Africa's surge to victory, and in the process denied de Villiers the chance of a maiden one-day century. Pollock merely laughed when asked if that was the intention. "AB played superbly and at the end of the day, it was as good as a hundred," he said. "From his perspective, he needed a big score which he got. It was good to see him go all the way through."
He wouldn't commit himself when asked whether India had the bowling to pick up 20 South African wickets in the Test matches. "We'll have to wait and see," he said. "They have a lot of experience. [Anil] Kumble has got loads and loads of wickets, and Harbhajan [Singh] has done a good job. It depends on who they pick. We hope not [bowl us out twice]. Our aim will be to score a lot of runs and bowl them out twice."
Pollock heads into that Test series with 395 Test wickets to his name, and Smith said that the team would take great heart from the emphatic nature of their one-day triumph. "Our confidence is high and we are going to carry that confidence into the Test matches," he said. And when asked whether the inclusion of VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly would firm up an alarming brittle batting line-up, he chose to focus on the tension that is said to prevail in the Indian dressing room. "How the experienced guys fit into the environment of the team is going to be interesting to see," he said, poker-faced. For the moment, he's the man holding all the aces.