Zimbabwe in SA

New status, but Smith stars

2010-10-09 10:00
Smith brings up his 50 (Gallo Images)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Just because you’re no longer the general doesn’t suddenly make you a ho-hum soldier.

Graeme Smith was at pains to prove that as South Africa, powered by their no-nonsense batting to paper over some discernible cracks in the field, thrashed Zimbabwe by seven wickets with more than four overs to spare in the first Standard Bank Pro20 international in Bloemfontein on Friday night.

Win or lose, “Biff” is massively familiar with visiting the post-match podium for obligatory interviews, having been at the Proteas’ helm for the vast majority of his near-270 international appearances across the three codes.

So it was fitting in many ways that he should not be precluded from doing so again, after this season-opening triumph, despite Johan Botha now carrying the T20 leadership cares.

The big left-handed batsman was named player of the match for his innings of 58 at a rollicking strike rate of 200 on the nail, and opening stand of 90 in a mere seven overs with Loots Bosman.

It was an important salvo to quickly settle a wee hint of home-town nerves, considering that the Zimbabweans had posted a competitive total of 168, with Hamilton Masakadza the diligent bedrock.

There is the age-old case for saying that if it’s going to be “in with the new”, you might simultaneously consider dispensing with the old, and that the presence of the former captain might serve – inadvertently or not – as an impediment to the new skipper’s goals and philosophies.

Yet there seemed only good vibrations on that front in “Bloem”, with Smith’s deep experience with the willow proving invaluable on a night when the Proteas batting order looked notably wet behind the ears and short on depth, considering the absence of Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers.

Certainly there is no good reason statistically for marginalising Smith from the T20 format – he swelled his average after 28 matches with this performance to 33.11 and has a solid career strike rate of 130.

And he was typically withering in his leg-side onslaught, where no matter how heavily you try to police the fence, Smith has the brute strength to pierce it with startling ease at times.

He got himself out a little injudiciously, it must be said, when there seemed every chance he might advance to a maiden three-figure score in this arena, or at least eclipse his career best of 89 not out against Australia at the Wanderers in February 2006.

I am no special fan of Bosman, believing that his technique and organisation at the crease will be found out rather too often against significantly higher-calibre opposition, and that any talk of his restoration to 50-overs international cricket is foolhardy.

But give him his due in this match … he timed his stroke-play sweetly, especially with his favourite straight hitting, and there was some fine orthodoxy and conviction along the way as he notched 33 off 15 balls.

The finishing effort of JP Duminy and David Miller was first-class; commentator Daryll Cullinan correctly noted of the latter that there is “a bit of Klusener in his mannerisms” while Duminy showed renewed intent not to be psyched out by an old bogey of off-spin.

On a good batting track with incredibly swift outfield, Zimbabwe’s “pace” arsenal was exposed as a collection of popguns: one shudders at the thought that Christopher Mpofu and company might soon find themselves bowling in Tests again at the likes of, say, Messrs Tendulkar, Sehwag, Jayawardene and Sangakkara on merciless Subcontinent featherbeds.

South Africa were unusually scratchy in the fielding department -- something that will presumably be lifted in Kimberley on Sunday -- and not universally convincing with the ball, either.

Ryan McLaren and Rusty Theron, who carry good reputations as suffocating seamers, went for 70 runs in eight overs between them, which is a little disturbing against plucky yet still so obviously minnow opponents like these.

And although calling it a crisis at this point would be stretching things, South Africa suddenly have a thinly-stocked cupboard when it comes to proven, outright pace.

They are the envy of much of the world for their scalp-hunting alliance of Dale Steyn, in particular, and the now fast-blossoming Morne Morkel.

But if there is one tempering note domestically it is that nobody else has yet announced himself as a truly international-class tearaway, leaving only the established pair to carry the torch in the key “intimidation” area.

So to have lost the services of both within the space of some two weeks is anything but an ideal state of affairs as the Proteas’ 2010/11 campaign takes root.

Recently Steyn fell victim to an outfield mishap during the Champions League Twenty20, which left him with mild concussion as he fell backwards taking a catch, and on Friday night the beanpole Morkel succumbed in not dissimilar fashion.

He was also fielding, and turned his right ankle nastily as he stooped to collect the ball.

Morkel had bowled only two overs, impressing upfront with his rhythm and accuracy, before his match was abruptly ended as his older brother Albie – ironically recovering from injury himself – helped support him off the field.

Proteas physio Brandon Jackson later told SuperSport viewers that he had “sprained some outer ligaments”, although the damage was apparently limited by swathes of protective strapping from a different injury.

It is fortunate, perhaps, that the next fortnight remains only about South Africa completing obligations against their limited neighbours …


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