Pakistan v SA
Biff: Who said hunger’s gone?
Cape Town - Graeme Smith’s march toward - and just as often beyond - major statistical milestones goes mercilessly on.
South Africa’s captain, significantly aided in his butchery of Pakistan’s attack by AB de Villiers, put beyond doubt any suspicion that serious injury setback, increasing additions to his family and the unavoidable ravages of time had dimmed his appetite for international cricket on day two of the second Test in relentlessly sun-baked Dubai on Thursday.
It is worth remembering that “Biff” only turns 33 in February, and his authoritative, unbeaten double-century (227) proved that his already legendary powers of stamina and resolve at the crease in the five-day arena are unaltered – and may remain so for a few years yet.
In a nutshell, the Pakistanis are slowly being ground into the desert sand as the Proteas so eagerly seek to square the infuriatingly short series.
With a whole three days to go, South Africa hold all the aces, a giddy 361 first-innings runs to the good with the Smith-De Villiers fifth-wicket alliance of 326 still active.
It may well prosper a fair bit further against the footsore “home” side, even taking into account that the pitch shows increasing signs that it will deteriorate quite markedly for the second half of the Test – hardly something the Proteas will fret too much about right now.
Within sight for Smith, personally, are several enticing landmarks (the often swashbuckling De Villiers, 157 not out, is also not incapable of rewriting a few of his own if he makes merry on Friday under largely relaxed circumstances).
This innings alone has already shifted the big left-handed opener up several notches to 12th for all-time Test run-scorers (9027, and counting); he goes ahead of all of Graham Gooch, Javed Miandad and Inzamam-ul-Haq now.
He is also just 50 runs shy of his own best score in Tests – the 277 against England at Edgbaston in 2003 in only his 15th turn at the Test crease.
Possibly also not quite out of range, though far less likely and depending on how long he may decide to prolong Pakistan’s agony in the field, is the currently absent Hashim Amla’s South African record knock of 311 not out, also achieved against England, at The Oval in 2012.
Smith’s fifth achievement of a double century – and his first since 2008 – advances him to joint-11th on the all-time list with Rahul Dravid for that feat, a chart still comfortably headed by Don Bradman with 12.
Speaking of the one and only Bradman, he is joined in an elite little club by Smith in boasting involvement in five triple-century partnerships in Tests.
So considering that there have been 12 stands of this nature involving South Africans, Smith has been involved in nearly half of them.
Three of his have been with Herschelle Gibbs, one with Neil McKenzie and now also one with De Villiers.
When Smith and De Villiers resume on Friday, presumably refreshed to at least some extent by their scheduled ice baths, they may also have half an eye on the SA all-time record partnership for any wicket, the unbroken 429 posted by Jacques Rudolph and Boeta Dippenaar against Bangladesh at Chittagong in 2003 (ninth best by any pair in the world).
Although he is a naturally large unit, Smith has apparently shed more than 10kg in weight during his lengthy winter rehab after his ankle surgery, and a tribute to the endurance of both he and De Villiers (revisited for large parts by an old bogey of cramp, but defiantly unbudging nevertheless) was the fact that they have amassed their 326 runs together thus far at a rollicking rate of 4.16 runs to the over.
On a ground where the outfield hasn’t been the fastest and the temperatures are constantly a long way above 30 deg C, that must take quite some doing ...
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