Proteas in Australia

Biff freed up with bat: Kirsten

2012-11-06 14:27
Graeme Smith (Gallo)
Cape Town – A central figure in South Africa’s maiden Test series triumph in Australia in 2008/09, captain Graeme Smith is in a good space to be influential once more, Proteas coach Gary Kirsten believes.

In a comprehensive interview with Sport24 preceding the latest series, which starts in Brisbane on Friday (2am SA time), Kirsten said he was relatively unconcerned that the big, experienced left-handed opener enters it having played less cricket than most colleagues in the lead-up period.

“Batting is like riding a bike … I don’t think he needs a whole lot of game-time to get going,” Kirsten said.

“He’s worked really hard at his batting; he’s very diligent about what he wants to do in his preparation.

“I also think the release of energy, by relinquishing the limited-overs captaincy, has freed up his batting more.”

Kirsten’s belief on that score is backed up by Smith’s solid personal contribution at the crease to the Proteas’ acclaimed 2-0 series victory in England a few months ago, where he averaged in the mid-fifties.

“Biff” has a relatively ordinary batting record, by his high standards (overall career Test average 49.78 at present) against the Aussies – 37.92 in Australia itself and 36.05 in 15 bilateral Test appearances home and away.

But it may be a good omen for the imminent 2012/13 hostilities that in the landmark last series Down Under, Smith scored heavily in the first two Tests (Perth and Melbourne, where South Africa won each time to grab the rubber early) before his finger-injury mishap at Sydney at the hands of Mitchell Johnson.

He had registered 48 and 108 at the WACA -- where this season’s series ends -- and 62 and 75 at the MCG.

Kirsten also revealed: “I think he’s enjoying his current period of captaincy. I believe we complement each other well, as captain and coach. In many ways our leadership styles are principally quite different, and that’s good.

“We’ve always had a good connection as people and he’s a natural born leader – I know I’ve said that for a long time. It’s difficult for him to be in any other space.

“The knowledge he brings to every Test match ... you can’t buy it in the supermarket. I mean, 95 Test matches of captaincy experience. Nobody matches that.”

Asked whether he had done anything specific during the first year of his tenure to rejuvenate veterans like Smith and Jacques Kallis, Kirsten said: “I think all we’ve really done is spoken earnestly about what we want to achieve as a team. It’s what we want to do as a group of people and what legacy we want to leave behind.

“If your environment and culture is set up right, you will get your individuals stepping up, regardless of how long they may have (been involved for).

“I believe it’s also about managing players the right way. I’ve sat down with our oldest player Jacques and said ‘let’s look at the next year; see where you are’. I want him to play Test cricket, where I believe he is his very best, and he agrees to that.

“Dale (Steyn) and Morne (Morkel) are not going to play every lead-up game because I want (them) to be fresh for three Test matches on the trot. Yes, they say.

“So there’s a real sense the guys are comfortable in their spaces, their roles and responsibilities. The players have created the energy that exists in the team; they’re feeding off each other.  There’s a lovely momentum in our culture now.”

*The final part of Kirsten’s chat with Rob Houwing will be run on Wednesday. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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