Smith hopes to silence critics
Cape Town - Speaking frankly after South Africa’s astonishing Test victory by eight wickets over Australia on Friday at Newlands, Proteas captain Graeme Smith said he hoped his return to form would silence a few of his critics.
"Hopefully, I won a few people over and they realise it still means a lot to me to play for South Africa," Smith said after South Africa went 1-0 up in the two-Test series.
The skipper lead from the front in their 236-run chase, scoring an unbeaten 101 on Friday, after soaking up the pressure in the first hour of play.
"To be able to bat under pressure and score a hundred was right up there in terms of an individual feeling," Smith said.
Smith shared a 195-run partnership with Hashim Amla and set a new South African record for the second-wicket stand against Australia.
Amla had been dropped twice but made the most of his good fortune to go on and score his 13th Test hundred, batting freely and hitting 21 fours in the process.
Smith said Amla took the heat off him for a while during this innings and they had enjoyed the best of the batting conditions.
"Hash played extremely well and took a lot of pressure off me as he was scoring freely all around the wicket."
"Everything I’d been working on was coming together.
"I just needed to get in against the new ball again and it just started flowing from there. It was a wonderful feeling."
Smith had been subjected to much criticism during his reign as captain, but more so since the Proteas’ shock exit from the ICC World Cup in India earlier this year.
"One or two things hurt a lot and some of the things said were very personal and crossed the line," he said.
"But that’s nature of job and I’ve just had to knuckle down.
"It was a big battle to get the confidence back and to build-up my self-esteem."
Smith last scored a century against Pakistan in November 2010, exactly a year ago. Since then, he had played four Tests, averaging 28 per innings and has a similar average in one-day cricket during the same period.
He was determined to persevere and not let the critics get the better of him. He knew that the only answer was to prove himself out on the field.
"It’s been a massive challenge, but I just kept working hard and knuckling down and today was the reward.
"Hopefully I can build on it because, at the end of the day, I just wanted to talk with the skills and perform with the bat -- and that has been my focus throughout the season so far."
After an extended break, compounded by knee surgery during the off-season, Smith was clearly out of sorts at the start of this Australian tour.
He made a duck in the first Twenty20 and four runs in the first one-day international before he began to find his form in the second ODI in Port Elizabeth last month.
His half-century must have brought welcome relief, but an attempted reverse sweep cost him his wicket.
"It’s been a really tough period during the six months -- coming back after the World Cup and having surgery -- and a long process to get to this point today.
"A lot of people stood by and worked with me and I’ve very grateful."
All that is behind him now, as he became the first player to score four centuries in a winning fourth-innings run chase and to score a 1 000 runs in this role, at an average of 85.83.
"I thought my front foot was moving pretty well today and I was committing to my shots and hitting the ball straight.
"I was playing well in the nets and it started to come together in the first innings and I just build on that in the second innings."