Biff v Mitch a critical Test duel?

2011-11-08 10:38

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – The recent Australian formula for Mitchell Johnson, their main strike weapon, has been to employ him as first change bowler ... expect him to probably “jump the queue” and return to the helm of the attack at Newlands from Wednesday.

And the reason is not especially hard to find, if that does indeed turn out to be the case in the keenly-awaited first Test: the Baggy Greens will want to get him blasting immediately at Graeme Smith, the South African captain and opening batsman who has always cherished genuinely leading from the front.

Preventing him from doing so in this short series is, no doubt, a strong Aussie objective.

Smith is a seasoned and wily campaigner who will know all this.

He has had some engrossing skirmishes with the left-arm thunderbolt before, winning some rounds and losing others, in the uncompromising manner of a slug-out between two distinguished and well-matched heavyweight boxers.

Both men are 30 – Johnson reached that landmark just a few days ago – which is often when cricketers are considered to be roughly at the peak of their powers, fuelled by lots of wisdom but also not quite yet candidates for long-in-the-tooth branding.

They have also had their respective ups and down, as happens in this complex game: Johnson has experienced periods where he has stopped swinging the ball even if not necessarily shelving his near-blinding pace, making him more prone to assault and battery on good batting tracks, whilst Smith’s recent scratchy form and technical difficulties especially against left-arm quickies are well documented impediments.

In terms of current mojo, the Australian boasts an edge going into the Newlands fixture: he is bending the cherry again and looking hungry and penetrative, but Smith’s “recent matches” performance list on his personal portfolio on Cricinfo rather bears out his general unease at the crease.

That list shows scores of 19, 57 and 4 in the surrendered ODI series to the Aussies, 24 and 0 in the shared Twenty20 international series, and 6, 12, 24 and 0, for what it’s worth, in T20 activity for Pune Warriors in April and May after a similarly stuttering World Cup for “Biff”.

Johnson also has the psychological advantage of knowing that in the last Test summer between the two great southern hemisphere powers, he broke both of Smith’s hands almost three years ago.

Smith’s public popularity -- for various reasons and rightly or wrongly -- has seemingly been at a lowest-ever point in recent months, although they always say the best captains don’t go out of their way to court this anyway.

But his courage and bulldog tenacity does not deserve any scrutiny at all: his only half-jocular “pappadum fingers” mantle, given several injury setbacks of this nature, must irk him more than anything else: he simply hates being missing from a dogfight and has shown before that he never holds back physically just because he has been under the surgeon’s knife or been on a monotonous cocktail of pain-killers.

And for all those who question his ongoing presence in Proteas one-day sides, now no longer as captain, they are naively unfair when they suggest he is a similarly spent force, at least in their jaundiced eyes, as a Test campaigner.

Smith still holds a commanding Test average of a fraction under 50, and if his form has veered a little toward inconsistency in this arena as well, it also isn’t all bad: he has two centuries, a 90 and another two half-centuries in his last 13 knocks.

His specific Newlands track record is even better – average 54.85 – and in his second last Test at the ground he scored a second-innings 183 against England.

That is not the stuff of “liability”; come on, people.

Even so, Smith’s supporters will probably quietly admit to some nervousness ahead of the Aussie battle, given the less than ideal – personally, I am a bit more inclined to call it bloody awful – preparation period by South Africa for the important series.

The captain’s experience and instincts for a fierce scrap are going to be important under the circumstances.

Early blows either way could well be influential at Newlands in establishing both a match and series foothold.

So get down to Newlands for Smith v Johnson if you like the smell of napalm in the morning ...


  • Paul - 2011-11-08 11:03

    Nicely written, Rob.

      Anthony - 2011-11-08 11:41

      anyone want to bet R50 that Biff will loose the contest

      roboman1 - 2011-11-08 12:05

      Nice article. CSA needs to fire their CEO and acting Chairman, then start fixing their corrupt house, then this will end up getting proper sponsors and save the game from its current oily slide to nowhere! This will then allow better sponsors, more cash, better preparation and therefore better matches. Smith is an intelligent man, working for corrupt bosses filters through and permeates, they need to fix their castle first.

      Piet - 2011-11-08 12:18

      It should not be Biff , but Poof..... and he is gone.....

  • Felix - 2011-11-08 11:04

    At least you agree indirectly he is spent in the one days. I think the Ausies are more worried about Kallis, Amla and AB. Smitty will be lucky to make 20.

  • Jc - 2011-11-08 11:21

    I love the smell of Napalm in the morning!!

  • clinton.milne - 2011-11-08 11:25

    GO BIFF!!!

  • chiepner - 2011-11-08 11:26

    Who the heck is Greame Smith? Name sounds familiar but I just cant seem to remember when last I saw this dude playing any major role in test cricket. Is he not the bloke who tried to buy some runs in Pakistan but couldnt even get that right?

  • Raeez - 2011-11-08 11:35

    C'mon Mitch. Break hes hand again!!!!!!!

      Morne - 2011-11-08 12:21

      How can you wish that on another person? Although your grammar use explains quite a lot...

      Stephen - 2011-11-08 12:49

      @Raeez, what an absolute inbred a-hole. There are some real stupid people in South Africa and you are clearly one of them.

      Raeez - 2011-11-08 13:50

      @ Morne and Stephen, I was being sarcastic! Oh btw good insults guy. That really hurt my feelings...See there i did it again.lmao losers

  • Justin - 2011-11-08 12:06

    No need for the sunscreen Biffy. Bring on Mitchell Johnson anyway, coz Jaque Rudolph and Amla will send him to all corners by his second over...SA to win, Smith to score less than 30 in both innings, but he'll remain Proteas test captain for another two years, coz Gazza hasn't got the balls to drop him. Play Alviro Peterson, and make De Villiers captain.

      Nick - 2011-11-08 13:27

      Well said Justin. I say go Aussies - until the selectors and Kirsten (who may be 'found out' over the next 4 months) finally rid the team of Boucher and Smith - and hopefully Kallis to finally hang up his boots and go play IPL in India for the next 17 years... Lol!

      Stephen - 2011-11-08 14:02

      @nick, ah ok that makes a lot of sense dropping a player who has been averaging 70 in the last three years - wonderful sound logic, genius. We just need those playes who have been averaging 80 in test cricket and put him in place of Kallis

      Nick - 2011-11-08 14:38

      @ Stephen - I don't deny what Kallis has achieved over the years. He's been playing for his averages/legacy since the very beginning - hence the fact he only scored his maiden Test double-ton in December last year... Test cricket would need to be 8 days long for him to have scored more... Lol! In any event - I'm not referring to his cricketing achievements on the field - I'm referring to the fact that he's a big-headed tosser who thinks he (and his mates) are bigger than the game/ the Proteas team itself... That other players, especially new players to the squad, have to look up to him and 'worship' him as an 'untouchable' in the team... For now - of the 3 musketeering buddies - he's the only one worthy of a place in the Test team. I don't care how good a player is - if one thinks he's bigger than the team - said player can p#ss-off...! Remember the hoo-haa when he was dropped from the T20 squad a few years back (quite justifiably) - it was like "how dare they drop me"...?? Like I said - the IPL calls... Bye-bye...

      Stephen - 2011-11-08 15:35

      @Nick, I think you should stop watching cricket, you obviously dont know what you are talking about. I have heard some strange things in my time, but yours is truly mind boggling

      Justin - 2011-11-08 16:15

      @Nick Your are seriously deur die . . . Kallis is a legend, always plays for the team and is totally respected. You should rather go watch baseball mate.

      Wimpie - 2011-11-09 11:15 are obviously a moron. Shut up.

  • david.sportsman - 2011-11-08 12:44

    I am going to enjoy it when Biff silences all his critics, who suddenly thinks he is useless...I hope all you guys will be back on here apologizing and congratulating him?

      frans.visserdsb - 2011-11-08 13:35

      I agree - he reminds me a lot of Gazza as a batsman, in that he does have some flaws in his technique (Nibbling at the ball outside off early on in his innings is one, playing away from his body...) but that he has a great fighting spirit. Remember that everybody was clamouring for Gary to be dropped just before he made the SA test record score...form comes and goes, class is forever. Greame is on the verge of a big really looking forward to the test series, only wished it was a proper 5 test series and that we had better preparation. 2 pro-twenties and 3 one-dayers - with some different personnell - does not constitute good preparation.

  • Craig - 2011-11-08 12:52

    Biff is going to surprise a lot of you "experts".

      Raeez - 2011-11-08 15:43

      HUH?? Is he going to drop himself from the team?? Wow you right, i am surprised.

  • Andre - 2011-11-08 12:57

    Biff is useless and should not be in the team!! Mitchell to win hands down!

      Stephen - 2011-11-08 13:12

      Ah another tiresome South African All Black supporter. Please give me cricketing reasons why he shouldnt play and name me the South African opening batsmens who has a better record than Smith who can take his place.

      Andre - 2011-11-08 13:43

      @Stephen its an easy answer Smith is not on form and players should be chosen on form only. Why don't CSA give youngsters a chance.

      Raeez - 2011-11-08 15:48

      wait wait wait @ Stephen, what does the All Blacks have to do with a CRICKET Test match between SA and Aus? @ Andre 100% correct. Smith has been out of form for a very long time. If this was the Aus Captain he whould have been dropped loooong ago. There are youngsters who have been scoring BIG runs for their franchises aswell as for the SA A team.

      Stephen - 2011-11-08 17:42

      @Raeez , well it seems Andre is one of those South African All Black supporters who will always find fault at anything to do with South African sport, even though he is from the country.. Tosser, ha ha lol

      Raeez - 2011-11-09 07:54

      @ Stephen I get what you say but im sure Andre supports the Proteas deap Like i do. Theres a part of me that want Buff to score big in the 2 Tests...

  • Nick - 2011-11-08 13:20

    Good article Rob! :) Will be supporting the Aussies though - as a South African - I am sick and tired of the Smith/Kallis/Boucher buddies clique in the Proteas team. Too many players have been omitted from the Test and ODI squads over the years because they either didn't "fit in" with the 3 buddies - or were a genuine threat to their place in the team - eg Morne van Wyk not being selected for the Proteas CWC squad in 2007 - at a time when he was our best batsman in limited overs cricket - not to mention a very good keeper as well. He was a threat to dear old Mark Boucher's place in the team - so, guess what - Morne wasn't even selected in a squad of 15...... Go figure! Needless to say - the team was pathetic in the West Indies that CWC - and was deservedly sent packing! Hopefully the Aussies win 2-0, then if Boucher is still in the team - that Sri Lanka wins 3-0 over December and January... The Proteas must keep losing while they still carry passengers and buddies in the team!

      Stephen - 2011-11-08 13:27

      Oh no how can we carry on. Some troll doesnt want to support the Proteas beacuse some fickle and uninformed opinion. Who needs Gaddaffi or Mugabe if we have Smith - such an evil person Has 2012 come early, were the Mayans a year late? Oh the humanity

      Raeez - 2011-11-08 14:00

      @ Nick, I really hope you wrong about SA losing 2-0 against the Aussies and 3-0 against Sri Lanka but i agree with you 100% bout the 3 buddies. They were all good in their day, Kallis might still have something in the tank but its time for them to move on now. There are good talent leaving our Country all the time and making it big in places like England. Another dumb call is replacing Duminy with oupa Prince. When they going to start looking at the future? @ Stephan,........Tosser! hahahahaha

      Stephen - 2011-11-08 14:07

      @Raeez , you are the only tosser. Hope you get punched in the face Ha Ha Ha

      Raeez - 2011-11-08 15:17

      @ Stephen, AGAIN great comeback chap! Really hurt my feelings Dont be so angry! Focus on the good times man. I mean theres a great test match about to start in less then 24hours...whoooossa

  • Zebulin - 2011-11-08 13:35

    very excited for this match up, my heart say biff will win this one but mitch is looking better. mitch has also not been on the best of form and hopefully he will slip back into that bad form for the next 2 tests. Biff is the best opener we have and i agree with the writer, "he has two centuries, a 90 and another two half-centuries in his last 13 knocks" is pretty good considering the flack he is got. come on biff show dem. p.s great article

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