Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – If there is no haven like home
when the climate in the broader world seems a little stormy, then senior
Proteas statesmen Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis will no doubt be delighted
that the Test series decider against Sri Lanka takes place at Newlands here from
Smith may be Johannesburg-born, and Kallis
had a brief stint away from his roots with the Warriors, but this city is their
stomping ground of choice in more ways than one – it is certainly reflected in
their fondness for excelling, and massively so, in Test cricket at the
The national team is under fire for its
ongoing failure to match with routine performance abundant staffing potential
in the five-day arena, a situation badly aggravated by the limp surrender of
the second Test in Durban to the underdog but startlingly rejuvenated Lankans.
Inevitably some of the most experienced
components have come under scrutiny during the team’s frustrating inconsistency
and, sometimes, hints of lethargy and joylessness.
It is a perfect time, then, for the
indisputably “tough” to get going ... and they don’t come much steelier than
Smith and Kallis, whatever the arguments that both, to varying degrees, may be
losing aspects of their lustre.
Short-lived rumours that the former was
considering giving up the Test captaincy swirled on the fiendish forum of
Twitter during the Kingsmead fiasco.
Whether devoid of any legitimacy or not,
they were at least indicative of the cloud that hovers not terribly far from
the Proteas camp at this time of continued under-achievement.
Incidentally, I am not among those who suspects
Smith’s captaincy is the key root of the Proteas’ relative woes, even if I do
have some mounting fears that he may have lost a bit more of his hunger for the
job than he realises after all these years burdened by the multi-pronged cares
that come with the turf.
He is still an inspiring fellow in a lot of
ways, with a track record to prove it. Not too many compelling rival candidates
for the chore come to mind, especially as we await judgment on AB de Villiers’s
maiden one-day leadership qualities, a few days further up the line when ODI
hostilities start at the sleepy hollow of Paarl.
Kallis, meanwhile, suffered the indignity
of a first-time pair in his 149th Test, but he is a great respecter
of the levelling qualities this game provides ... and at least will know that
the only way is surely up again for him!
His 150th cap coming at Newlands
will please him, too: it is a place where his batting prowess has been
Kallis’s Test average still seriously lofty
at 56.24, it swells to 72.07 at that venue from his 19 appearances there, with
eight centuries to show.
Newlands over New Year? Images of Kallis
centuries come almost automatically to mind – he has reached the landmark three
times in his last four knocks in the traditional early-January fixture,
including back-to-back ones under severe physical pain against India.
Indeed, it is hard to believe now that his
first Test innings at Newlands – just his second game overall – was a
watch-the-paint-dry vigil of seven off 65 balls against England in 1995/96.
Like his long-time ally, Smith’s batting
average (49.64) balloons a fair bit when you break it down to Newlands alone –
58.63 in 13 Tests there.
He started promisingly in the shadow of
Table Mountain, scoring a resilient 68 -- batting at No 3 behind Gary Kirsten
and Herschelle Gibbs – in the second innings on Test debut against
then-untouchable Australia in 2001/02
and has more or less flourished at the venue ever since, with four tons to
The hefty left-hander has reached three
figures in two of his last Tests at Newlands, the most recent being an unbeaten
second-knock 101 to seal victory over the very Aussies in November.
Smith has reached at least a half-century in
as many as nine of his 13 games at the ground, so if he is rather more fitful
for major scores at other Test venues the world over these days, a pattern of
heavy scoring in Cape Town is largely unchanged.
And taking away the Newlands factor for a minute,
the environment is tailor-made anyway for someone like Smith to lead by
example, something he can usually not be accused of failing to do when the
chips are down.
He loves to be a central personal presence
when a series is, or may be, at stake.
One big instance that comes most rapidly to
mind was his seminal 154 not out at Edgbaston in 2008, when the Proteas were
wobbling at 93 for four in pursuit of 281 to win the third Test – and thus
clinch the series in England even with one Test left to play.
Monty Panesar was turning the ball almost
square, and an equalising English victory seemed very much on the cards, but
Smith’s composure and grit (crucially aided by another veteran under present
pressure, Mark Boucher) saw the Proteas surge over the line.
In a 2003/04 series in New Zealand similar
to the current one against Sri Lanka -- played over three Tests and with the
final one anything but a dead-rubber fixture -- South Africa, 1-0 down, had
also wobbled to 36 for three in pursuit of 234 to share the summer spoils, but
Smith’s 125 not out eventually made light enough work of achieving exactly
Yes, a productive personal homecoming from
either or both of “Biff” and “Jakes” would probably go a long way to getting
the Proteas over the line against Sri Lanka in this unexpectedly nerve-jangling
Test match for them ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing