Cape Town - The presence of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis in the South African test team is non-negotiable if South Africa wants to maintain their stranglehold at the summit of the global best rankings, said Ali Bacher, a former South African test captain.
And the former South African test captain Gary Kirsten has questioned the criticism that Smith might be susceptible against the slow bowlers Abdur Rehman and Saeed Ajmal, who had the England batsmen in disarray in 2012 by capturing 43 wickets in setting up a series whitewash.
Smith, who had to undergo a surgery after suffering a recurrence of an ankle injury during his stint with Surrey, is expected to be fully fit for the SA tour of the United Arab Emirates and Cricket South Africa selection convener Andrew Hudson mentioned that his condition will be monitored closely.
"We should have a definite picture on the status of Graeme's recovery from surgery within the next two weeks," said Hudson. "We will obviously be monitoring Graeme's condition very carefully and do not want to overload him too much during the early stages of his return,” he said.
HD Ackerman, a former South African batsman, says there are two things that the South African cricket-nation is starting to sense about Smith.
Firstly, he is a great cricket captain and his teammates love to play for him. He has a great understanding of what it takes to win at the highest level.
On top of that, he is an incredible performer with the bat.
“In critical situations, he produces match-winning performances with the bat, like his undefeated 154 in the fourth innings at Edgbaston in 2008, and his 108 in the fourth innings in Perth in 2008,” said Ackerman.
There are a number of other match-winning performances, like his 101 against Australia at Newlands in 2011, and his undefeated 125 at the Basin Reserve in Wellington in 2004 when Gary Kirsten and Smith set up a win to deny New Zealand a test series victory.
Bacher says one of the hallmarks of Smith’s batting is his ability to take the match away from the opposition with his belligerence when a tantalising score of 150 or more is needed for a victory.
The team can start hesitantly and lose three early wickets for 40 to get into self-destruct mode.
“But Graeme will score quickly and you’ll be 29 without loss after three overs.”
Smith scored 85 off 79 deliveries against the West Indian Islands in January 2008 when the hosts needed a tricky 185 at Newlands for victory. South Africa cantered to an emphatic 7-wicket win.
Kirsten says Smith has worked out a way to score runs consistently at the highest level of the game. His batting contribution to the No 1 test team in the world is immense.
Some critics have questioned Smith’s orthodoxy, while his detractors have claimed that he is vulnerable against offspinners.
Kirsten answered them in style: “At the end of the day, each player needs to be a significant contributor and performer to his team. Graeme has a unique ability as a left-hander to score mostly on the leg side.
“I think this is pretty smart considering there are normally only three fielders on the leg side at the start of an innings.”
Rehman and Ajmal captured 43 wickets in 2012 to set up a whitewash against England.
Asked how comfortable Smith would be in Abu Dhabi and Dubai against spinners of that quality, Kirsten said: “I get the sense this is a loaded question. Graeme has performed everywhere in the world. He is an opening batsman and for twelve years, he has set the tone for a world-class batting unit to excel.
“In my opinion, his physical presence is a huge factor as front-line batsman,” said Kirsten. “He (Smith) is incredibly strong mentally. He is prepared to take the blows of batting up front and when he gets on top, he is difficult to get out.”
Currently there are still some doubts about Smith’s fitness.
Asked how important Smith is for South Africa’s success against Pakistan, Kirsten said great players are difficult to replace. Smith’s presence is huge to the team.
Yet he believes high performing teams can adapt and are able to find ways to succeed in the face of difficulties or losing a top-player.