'Smuthy': a Kiwi we can like!
Rob Houwing’s ‘Tops on the Telly’ column
Although South African batting legend Barry Richards was
clearly imported to provide some balance, there’s not unexpectedly been a
noticeably pro-New Zealand element to SuperSport’s commentary feed from the
cricket series there featuring the touring Proteas.
Don’t get me started on Craig McMillan, for instance, the
chunky former Black Caps all-rounder who delighted in telling us all that “the
South Africans will resort to anything” (or words closely to that effect) as
wicketkeeper AB de Villiers, standing up at the stumps, accidentally knocked
off a bail just as a New Zealand batsman played a stroke during that amazing
final Twenty20 international this week.
It came midway through the home team’s innings as they
seemingly surged to toward victory at Eden Park ... but at least the laugh was
on McMillan as De Villiers’s men, without resorting to any skulduggery at all,
clawed their way back courageously from the brink to win the game and series.
I can only hope his tongue was firmly in his cheek as he
laid the charge, but based on his overall partiality toward the New Zealanders,
I’m really not so sure.
One Kiwi commentator I have no special beef with, however,
is Ian “Smuthy” Smith, the former Test wicketkeeper, who turns 55 next Tuesday
as a matter of interest.
I find him mostly even-handed, knowledgeable and pleasant to
He clearly values the broader sporting heritage between his
country and South Africa, and was no doubt chuffed to squeeze in one post-isolation
cap against us – the World Cup meeting in 1992 when Kepler Wessels and company
got horribly bogged down on a funereal surface – before his retirement just a
Versatile Smith is also excellent in a pitch-side capacity
at Test or Super Rugby matches, giving genuinely valuable extra input about
weather conditions, activity on the subs bench and the like.
Of course no commentator ever has a unanimous fan club: I
spotted a New Zealand blog titled “Does anyone else find Ian Smith slightly
But I rather backed one of the wittier respondents to the
piece, who said “Risspick, please.”
Rob’s Awesome Foursome
1 Bulls v Sharks, Super Rugby
19:10, M-Net, SS1 & SHD
I’ve gone a little against the grain of overall sentiment,
it seems, by tipping the Bulls to get home in this tantalising floodlit derby
which opens hostilities in the SA conference. For all the talk of the hosts
losing so many legends in the off-season, I reckon they’re strong enough on
paper – and perhaps even more importantly in the pack – to get on the front
foot and have Morne Steyn take care of various other needs from there! That’s
not to under-estimate the Sharks, or the differing threat posed in their No 10
shirt by Pat Lambie, but there’s grunt missing from their early-season mix as
Messrs Alberts, Mtawarira and company go through injury-related rehab. Your
English-language commentators on the night? Blades and Broz, plus look out for
maiden pitch-side analysis from Big Vic ...
2 New Zealand v South Africa, first
03:00, SS2, CSN & SH2
Remember those days when all rugby matches from New Zealand
were daytime affairs and South African TV-watchers thus had to crawl out of bed
at 03:30 or 04:00? Well, this may instead be cricket but it’s your chance for a
bit of nostalgia if you’ve got the strength of mind to leap up as the alarm
clock sounds. If the Twenty20 action was anything to go by, this three-game
series will also be closely fought, although my own belief is that the Proteas
are just about ready to “pull away” from the gritty but collectively less
talented Black Caps. Yes, I know I may be made to eat my words ... especially
as game one is at the Cake Tin, scene of South Africa’s lone T20 loss recently.
3 Stormers v Hurricanes, Super Rugby
Cape Town, Saturday
17:05, M-Net, SS1 & SHD
It was a toss-up between this fixture and the later Lions v
Cheetahs derby for this spot, but I chose the Stormers’ opener primarily
because it features the best South African finishers in Super Rugby last year.
It’s potentially a dangerous game for the hosts because nobody is talking up
the traditionally free-spirited ‘Canes this year, stripped of some big guns yet
still fielding household All Black surnames like Smith, Jane and Eaton. As for
the Stormers, there are several notably fresh faces on view so the win is
certainly not guaranteed. That said, I do tip them to win ... just maybe not
with a bonus point? Behind the English mike will be Matt Pearce and Bob
4 Arsenal v Tottenham, English
London, Sunday 15:30,
SS3, SHD3 & Maximo
Ah, the good old North London derby! It may not be a
“massive” game at this stage in terms of the title race – that still looks like
a two-way duel between the Manchester clubs – but the combatants do lie third
and fourth (admittedly Spurs with a handsome 10-point lead over the Gunners
right now) and there are European qualification issues at stake to go with the
traditional local animosity. Riskily, I admit, I’ve tipped Arse to grab this one,
their players perhaps motivated by reports that significant sums of money will
become available for acquisitions. So we’ll see just how much some existing
troops fancy the prospect of a squad cleanout ... Mr Wenger’s lad to nick it