Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Severely threatened by
follow-on and possible humiliation just a day earlier, Proteas captain Graeme
Smith has hailed the eight-wicket first Test whipping of Australia at Newlands
here on Friday as “one of the great Test comebacks”.
Smith, who absolutely thrives on
fourth-innings challenges and once again raised a firm middle finger, as it
were, to his critics by helping lead the surge to victory with an unbeaten
century, said afterwards that Shane Watson’s bowling performance on Thursday’s
dramatic day two had helped his own side suddenly lift their game.
Watson grabbed five for 17 as South Africa
crashed to 96 all out in their first innings, but then Proteas debutant and
later man-of-the-match Vernon Philander, a not dissimilar type of seamer, even
eclipsed that with his own five for 15 as the Aussies were ripped out for a
dismal 47 in their second knock.
“After lunch yesterday Watson bowled
extremely well, got the ball to talk, and we learnt something from it: he was
very tight on off-stump and there was probably enough movement either way to
create enough chances so we really focused on that, coming out to bowl again.
“The execution and the way we responded was
terrific ... it’s so easy when you’re some 190 behind to just go through the
motions. Twenty one for nine ... that was an incredible sight out there. I
don’t think I’ve seen a scorecard like that since I was a young schoolboy.
“We never expected 21 for nine ... there’d
been some joking about rolling them for 60 or 70 and nobody probably believed
it! We showed the team’s character the way we did bowl.
“When we selected Vernon we were hoping for
something like this. I’ve known Vern for a while and his first-class record has
been terrific, especially over the last couple of years. He brings control to
the pack and he has a bit of mettle; gets stuck in.”
Asked by Sport24 whether he coaxes some
special extra quality out of himself in fourth-knock pursuits, Smith said with
some modesty: “I think probably I got the best time to bat on day three, with
the sun out. There was obviously a bit of pressure, but I’d felt good in my
first innings (of 37, the top score) with everything I was working on coming
“Today it was about being (stoical) in that
first hour and then playing from there – Hashim (Amla, who scored 112)
certainly played supremely well and took a lot of the pressure off me.”
The big left-hander admitted he had
experienced a “tough six months” of off-season, after having further surgery
and then things not especially going his way at the crease. His array of
detractors had stayed on his back, too.
“A lot of people have stood by me and
worked with me, which I’m grateful for. Hopefully I also won over a couple of
people today – playing for South Africa still means an awful lot to me. This
innings was right up there in terms of personal (satisfaction).
“One or two things (from his critics) hurt
a lot ... some things were very personal and crossed the line a lot. But that’s
the nature of the job; I just had to knuckle down. It’s been a big battle to
get the confidence and self-esteem back up ... that’s been a massive challenge.
“Cricket had kept its foot on me at the
start of the season and I just kept working hard. Today was the reward I can
hopefully build on.”
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