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Graeme Smith warns Panesar of racist abuse

Graeme Smith, South Africa's captain, feels that left-arm spinner Monty Panesar will face an "unbelievable amount of abuse" - some of it racist - from the vociferous Australian crowds as England defend the Ashes over the next two months.

Speaking to The Guardian in Cape Town, Smith, whose team had suffered racial abuse from a section of the crowd when they toured Australia last year, feared for Monty, a bearded Sikh who wears a black patka.

"I was chatting to some of our team just the other day and we all shivered at the prospect of what he could be in for," Smith said. "He is going to cop an unbelievable amount of abuse. I sincerely hope for everyone's sake, but especially his, that it isn't of a racist nature, but our own experience obviously leaves us with doubts.

"Hopefully Monty can become a bit of a folk hero. I can see how that might happen. But if he is selected instead of [Ashley] Giles at the beginning of the tour then the noise levels when he comes on to bowl, or even just fields the ball at mid-on, will be close to unbearable. I dread to think of him fielding on the boundary."

Smith says the South African team coped with the abuse by tackling it head-on and reported all instances.

"It was definitely the right move as far as we are concerned," he said. "Anyone can see in sport around the world that a zero-tolerance approach to racism is being adopted and that's the only way to go. We all understood the dangers of racist copycats, but to do nothing or say nothing in the hope that it would just go away would have been as bad as condoning it."

Smith and team-mate Shaun Pollock went public with the abuse after hearing the word 'kaffir' - a racist term used against black people in southern South Africa - being constantly shouted from the stands. "It wasn't hard to see how upset and angry the players were," Smith said. "Given what South African society was, where it has come from and where it is going, nobody wanted to stand aside and let that stuff happen."

The ICC has recommended lengthy bans for spectators caught racially abusing players, but Smith doesn't believe Panesar will find much encouragement from this. "It's good if they are fined or banned, or locked up would be better," Smith said. "But it won't help Monty or any other target for their rubbish. I just hope they are seriously well prepared for the worst eventuality. Then hopefully it won't happen."

Panesar has seen a psychologist to deal with the rigours of playing in Australia, a move that Glenn McGrath described as "soft" on a radio station. When asked about McGrath's comments, Panesar wasn't moved. "I heard about that," he conceded, "but I guess that's pre-Ashes [banter]. You just accept that as part of cricket. We had a brief chat about Australia, but it was a team thing, not on an individual basis. That's how it goes with cricket - you just accept it."