Tag Archives: graeme smith

4006 days of Graeme Smith

Graeme Smith trampled the grass between the slip cordon and the pitch, until he was level with David Warner. Then he let go with some straight talking about Joe Root and other home truths for Warner. Smith stood barely a metre from the batsman, towering above, but looking in another direction. Then, when he was sure Warner, and anyone with access to the stump mic, had got the message, he strolled, letting play continue once he was back in his spot at slip. That was Biff.

A short time later Morne Morkel was trapped in one of his overs from hell. Smith saw it, and ran up to help his lost fast bowler. He gave him the large paw on the shoulder, and deciding that Morne could use a bit more support, he stayed at mid-off until he was satisfied Morne was okay. Only then did he return to fill the massive hole he left at slip. That was Biff.

The squat is the same. So are the massive shoulders that his massive jaw is virtually on top of, clearly visible beneath a massive helmet. The arm guard is pointed straight at the umpire. His toes bobble up and down. There are two precise slow taps of the bat. Knees bent, back hunched like he is too big for his equipment, too big to even be that good at batting. He holds the bat like only he could lift it, not so he can swing it, but more so he can drop it on the ball.

And he faces Glenn McGrath. McGrath, the seasoned veteran who still looks like a boy, bowling to the confident boy with the man’s body. In any sort of hand-to-hand combat, McGrath would likely be crushed. But with the ball, against a young kid thrown in at No. 3, McGrath wins often. Caught by Ponting, for 3.

In the second innings, Smith fights back. He turns balls from off stump to the leg side with that twist of his arms you will know so much you could imitate it drunk at 3am. When facing Shane Warne, he’ll lean forward, eager to show he is not afraid of Warne. Then, when the ball suits him and he gets some air, he’ll race at Warne, stamping his feet and lofting over mid-on with a beautiful lack of elegance. Eventually Warne will take the brash kid’s wicket. Caught behind, by Gilchrist, for 68.

At Newlands, in 2002, that kid making his Test debut was dismissed twice, by four legends of the game.

Smith’s form continued and he thought, rightfully, that he should have been in South Africa’s squad to play the 2003 World Cup at home. And he wanted to make his point. He did it by demanding he captain Western Province against South Africa in a warm-up match. A bold move from someone his age. What was supposed to be an intra-SA friendly match turned darker and tougher when Smith demanded that his players take it seriously and take down the main team.

It could have gone horribly wrong. Considering the players on both sides, it probably should have. Western Province won by seven wickets and almost 20 overs to spare. That’s not a contest. In the later games, which Smith did not captain, the senior team smashed their opposition. They had been burned once.

Smith’s biggest impact might have been when he and Shaun Pollock went toe to toe during one of those matches. The issue was trivial. Smith was upset that Pollock wasn’t adhering to the fielding conditions of an ODI match. He wanted it done properly, Pollock was just happy to have a warm-up. Here was a player in and out of the national team standing in the face of Pollock, a legend and captain. That is something people notice.

Smith had captained Gauteng school teams many times, and had experience in a few other senior games. But basically, that game he won for Western Province and him leading South Africa A in a comeback 2-1 win against a good Zimbabwe side was about it. And Shaun Pollock was captaining South Africa in the World Cup. Graeme Smith wasn’t even in the squad.

Hosting the World Cup was a monumental deal for South Africa. They wanted people to see that they were growing, that they were changing and that their part of the world was getting it right. On one day of the tournament, someone who brought the old South African flag into a ground was turfed out. None of that, people are watching, we must be at our best.

Their team wasn’t. They were so bad it even made news in the US when they crashed out of the tournament before it really began. Smith came in for three games, after Jonty Rhodes was ruled out with injury, and averaged 40. In Durban, he made 35 opening the batting against Sri Lanka. That’s not what people remember from that game. They remember that South Africa got their Duckworth-Lewis calculation wrong. They became a laughing stock to the world, but at home they were upset.

So upset that despite being the second-ranked ODI team, the second-ranked Test team and having won 13 of their last 16 Test series, Pollock was out. They needed someone new.

It was stupid and reactionary. A jumbo panic button to stop the yelling. Cricket administrators are nothing if not adept at offering sacrificial lambs for the press and fans to slaughter. Graham Ford was upset Pollock was gone, “Polly was a soft target. All I can conclude is that people hit on him in order to save their own jobs.”

Former South Africa coach, the late Bob Woolmer, said during that World Cup, “There is a vacuum in South African cricket. South Africa is not producing the type of cricketers it used to anymore. Many cricketers, both black and white, are not sure what the future holds for them.” It wasn’t just Woolmer thinking this. Allan Donald and Rhodes were done. Gary Kirsten was next. Pollock was embarrassed.

It wasn’t a vacuum, but a monumental chasm. And it needed to be filled.

A vetting committee to help find a captain was formed. It was the national professional selection advice committee, or something like that. They didn’t have many options. Kirsten was not going to last long. Mark Boucher was a wicketkeeper. Jacques Kallis was who he was. All they had was a young lad who had presence.

Presence is like an X-factor, hard to explain, but Smith had this immense presence when he was in front of you. Monstrous confidence radiated through him. Somehow he comforted the leaders of South African cricket, and they completely forgot their history as a conservative cricket nation, and Smith bustled his way through.

Smith was the youngest captain of his country. Almost 50 years earlier Ian Craig had been the same for Australia – a teen prodigy who had taken the job when Australia desperately needed someone. The idea was he would lead a youngish side into the promised land. He had already toured England, and captained New South Wales to a Shield win, and with six Tests to his name he took over the main job. He was practically the same age as Smith when he took over.

Despite having no quota system, a solid year of captaining older men behind him, no 24-hour news cycle or the internet, Craig, the young batting genius, captained in only one Test series – series he won, but in which he made no real runs and tried to drop himself for the last match. Due to illness and bad form, and without the backing of senior players, Craig was ruined.

There were some in South Africa who were worried that something similar would happen to Smith. So there was a compromise that was considered, a thought that Smith could be an apprentice to Pollock. Pollock said no, Smith said no. They were different men. Pollock backed Smith. Smith backed Smith.

Thirty-five days after his Western Province team had beaten South Africa, Smith was captain of his country.

He had barely played outside South Africa – a few ODIs in Sri Lanka – and he knew little of international cricket. But Smith knew he wanted to conquer it. He knew he wanted the team to lead, and with eight Tests and 22 ODIs to his name, he went about it.

Smith quickly distanced himself from disgraced (but still loved) former captain Cronje at his first press conference. What was left of Cronje’s team was also leaving. He also distanced himself from Pollock as a leader.

Pollock was laid back and magically gifted. It had been bred in him. Smith was a worker and his team would be more like him. South Africa would get to the ground earlier, and train harder and longer. More would be made of the nationalistic side of playing for the country. Smith wanted his men as inspired and prepared as he was.

Smith also said stupid things in the early days. People didn’t like him for it. He was not the only 22-year old to say stupid things, but he wasn’t a normal 22-year old. Australia seemed to hate him on first sight and felt betrayed that he mentioned their sledging in public. Some in South Africa felt he was more mouth than talent. And he arrived in England full of words.

It was in England that his career as captain really started. With Matthew Hayden sledging him from many time zones away, and Nasser Hussain’s massive insult of “wotshisname”, Smith was learning that being captain involved more than just turning up half an hour earlier at the ground. So he reacted in a brutal way. He scored 277. His second double-century in 11 Tests. In his 12th, he would score another. Hussain retired. Hayden looked silly.

From there, Smith built an empire based around the all-round brilliance of Kallis, champion bowlers of different eras, two of the sexiest batting talents in modern cricket. He balanced all this on his frame. No matter how good the other players were, or how amazing their feats were, everyone knew who the leader was. He was at the front, and hard to miss.

Smith made a bunch of runs in the second best chase in Tests and the best chase in ODIs. He added Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss to England captains he saw off. He was in charge when South Africa were the No. 1 ODI team. He was in charge when they were the No. 1 Test Team. And it was under Smith that Australia’s reign as the best team finally ended.

He did it all while opening the batting. When Smith is on the field, he has a little telltale sign that he is thinking hard, or something is going wrong for him. He slips his cap back a bit on his head, and rubs the front of his hair. Unlike most captains, he hasn’t gone grey or even started to bald, despite that hefty duke rubbing his head several times a day. Then, after all that thinking, Smith goes out to bat. When he does that he averages 48.

With a dodgy technique, a frame too large for batting, political pressures on selection, the chief executive who gave him the job sacked, the pressure of captaincy for over a decade, a few coaches, a public split with an ‘it’ girl, growing into a man, dealing with a friend’s career-ending injury, choking at World Cups, a long-distance relationship, and kids with illnesses, Smith still kept that average. That is a feat of a hungry giant.

But nothing is ever enough. In 2011, South African crowds booed Smith shortly after his team lost the World Cup quarter-final to New Zealand. A forensic examination of that South African team suggested a middle order that could be a problem under extreme temperatures. But, they had Hashim Amla, Smith, AB de Villiers and Kallis in the top four. Chasing a total of 221, I mean, come on. South Africa had tried to promote the phrase ‘C is for Champions’. But after that, well, C went back to its old friend Choke. Smith was one hell of a leader, but even he could not carry his team to a World Cup victory, or even a final.

After the game, the South African players went home to show how sad they were at the airport. Smith did not. He went to Ireland. This seemed to infuriate everyone. It would turn out that he was doing to so seal the deal with the current Mrs. Deane-Smith. But he didn’t take his punishment from the fans.

So the most successful captain in South Africa’s history, the man who took his team to No. 1, who slayed Australia and burnt down English captains, was booed by his crowd. Some never forgave Smith for being brash when he was young. Others simply never stopped loving the confessed match-fixer Hansie Cronje (voted 11th greatest South African in a SABC poll in 2004). Even in Port Elizabeth, where Smith orchestrated a comeback win against the odds, there was a man wearing a Cronje t-shirt in the crowd. Cronje wasn’t the batsman Smith was. He wasn’t the leader Smith was. He wasn’t even the man that Smith was.

But if you search the internet with questions about who the better captain was, you’ll get bizarre answers like “Hansie WAS the best, unfortunately due to circumstances apparently beyond his control … he was forced to do the ‘devils’ work.” And ” I suppose it also depends on whether you like Graeme Smith or not! Personally I cannot stand him. I loved Hansie and he was a brilliant sportsman”. It’s hard to argue that Cronje was not a good tactician in the field, certainly more adventurous than Smith, but Smith averaged 12 runs more, beat Australia in Australia and England in England when Cronje never did, lost the same amount of World Cups, has a similar win-loss record, captained a team to No. 1 in two forms of the game and never ever sold out his country for a leather jacket.

And Smith did it all after starting as the youngest captain in his nation’s history, and then becoming the longest serving.

Smith has been in charge for 4006 days. In that time, a boy band could form, become No. 1, tour the world, split up to do solo stuff, end up in rehab, and then reform as retro throwback to appeal to their original fans. In 2003, we didn’t know what an iPhone was, there was no Facebook and Julian Assange was an angry Melbourne hacker. There are 15-year old kids who have grown up only knowing Smith as captain. He has longevity, results and integrity. He isn’t perfect, and has certainly spent years trying to prove that left-hand batsmen aren’t actually more aesthetically appealing than right-hand batsmen. But he deserves to be respected as brutal, ugly monolith of world cricket. The large guy who was always there.

Since the age of 10, Smith had been saying he wanted to captain his country. He put goals on his fridge, and he accomplished them. Then he helped his country finally live up to its potential, while guiding a whole generation of players. But he isn’t that kid anymore, he now has his own kids, one with an illness whom he needs to spend more time with. He isn’t the angry young man demanding to get into the team, he isn’t the bullish guy spraying people at press conferences, he is the old guy looking at a quieter life with his family.

Smith barged out onto the ground. His partner well behind him. The crowd stood. The officials rushed. The cameramen buzzed. Everyone looked miniature in comparison. Like a giant ape climbing a New York building, all eyes were on him. Smith the giant.

Australia waited in formation to honour him. The giant squeezed through them and out onto the pitch. His Western Province wicket. Clutching his GM chunk of tree, he would lead his country one last time. Them always behind him. He’ led. He led for a long time. He led well. The brutish behemoth. Biff leads. Then Biff leaves.

Leaving a tremendous hole that would take more than one man to fill.

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Johnson and Smith: a short rough love affair

February, 2014

The ball punches the pitch, and cracks into Graeme Smith who seems to react only as the ball leaves him. It loops up slowly and the crowd make noise accordingly. It is just off the pad. Not out. It is the first ball Smith faces from Mitchell Johnson.

____________

There is not much time to think between the ball leaving Johnson’s hand and the batsman having to deal with it. It is like a camera flash, or a political back-flip.

You can have a plan, you can think it through, but the ball just comes out of his hand and you react. There are some batsmen who revel in that. See ball, hit ball.

Not enough time for clear rational thought. There is not enough time to think about past deliveries, or history, it just happens.

January, 2009

A full ball that that should never have damaged anyone, but spat up and took the left massive hand of Smith. His hand disappeared like he had been zapped by a ray gun. For a second Smith was lost, the pain confused him, he was walking around in a circle towards point. And only then did he eventually find the culprit, which had gone off to fine leg to allow him to get off strike. But the damage was done, and he would only come back into to bat at No. 11, with a broken hand.

____________

There is a bowling machine that players have used to try and learn the mystery and tricks of certain players, the Pro Batter. You can face Morne Morkel, Lasith Malinga or even Mitchell Johnson.

But you can’t program it with superhuman confidence. You can’t give it artificial menace. And you can’t play against it like it is a real force of nature. It is a computer game with real elements. Nothing more. All you can do is try and pick up a few tricks that you hope the next time you play will come in handy.

South Africa have used the Pro Batter, they have also faced Johnson at his old best. They should know how to play him. Smith has faced him more than most. They have survived him at the WACA, after he took 8 for 61, they milked him on their chase beyond 400 to win, they have played him ten times. They know him.

Well, they knew the old him. This new one is relentless and brutal, like a zombie girl group, or a current affairs reporter. This Mitchell is worse and better than anything that can be made with CGI or the old model.

March, 2009

Off the ground, looking at point, one hand off the bat, the right hand protecting his throat and being smashed into the bat handle. That is how Smith found himself as he just tried to survive a delivery. The ball did not take his wicket, he did end up in hospital.

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Smith is respected all over the world. He has scored almost 10,000 Test runs. He has done that at almost an average of 50. He has 27 Test centuries. He is the captain and leader of the world’s best Test team.

Smith is South Africa’s top order monolith. Strong, calm and reliable. The young warrior who took over the side and pushed them higher than they had ever been. All with a bottom handed technique that makes even his best shots look like a solid uppercut.

His place in the world of cricket is safe and secure, and he could retire tomorrow and be remembered for decades.

In nine Tests he has been dismissed by Johnson five times and sent to hospital twice. Today Johnson tried to do both in one ball.

February, 2014

The ball leaves the pitch with a mission to break the jaw or eye socket of Smith. There is no time. There is nowhere to hide. There is no way out. Smith can ever be hit in the face, or try and play the ball. His body is doing in one direction, his face another. His bat is jerking upwards not like a cricket shot, but like he is fending off a surprise Pterodactyl attack. The ball hits the bat, more by pure chance than design. The ball flies high, and all of the slips, (there are a few, but it seems like hundreds), arch their necks up at once, and watch it float behind them. Shaun Marsh chases, and chases, while the batsmen easily cross, and at the last minute he reaches the ball to barely take the catch.

____________

Graeme Smith faced two balls from Mitchell Johnson today.

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happy holidays

A lot of people kill themselves over the holiday period.

That’s sad.

I’ve never understood why, it’s obvious that February is the month to kill yourself.

Personally, I’d prefer you didn’t kill yourself, as that would be one less reader.

So here is a photo of Graeme Smith celebrating winning a tournament to make you fell better.

Thanks to Dale Steyn for taking this picture and giving us this joy.

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South Africa’s pity parade

At the end of 08 South Africa beat Australia at home to claim the metaphorical, yet still very heavy, title of the world’s best test team.

The players were so happy some of them smiled as they frolicked in the water of Sydney.

Since that win in Melbourne, they have won two tests, lost four, and drawn two.

That is shit in any language.

Так что одержать победу в Мельбурне, они не получили два испытания, потеряли четырех, и извлечь два.

For a long time South Africa have be known as chokers, but this time they got to the top, however briefly, but they are now spiralling in some 05 Ashes Freddie kind of hangover.

If they played India in India tomorrow, they couldn’t beat India with a stick, even if India was a limbless child hung from a tree piñata style and South Africa was a non-blindfolded sober adult with fully functioning motor skills.

13 months ago this was the best test team on the planet, now their coach is leaving due to irreconcilable shitness.

During the past 13 months Graeme Smith’s captaincy and bear like demeanour have been lauded all over the planet for getting the side to the top of the tree, but if your team falls straight out of the tree it doesn’t mean much.

Two home series losses is not the resume of a top test team, even England don’t do that. Obviously something is wrong inside the camp, and Arthur leaving them on the edge of a “SUPER TEST CROWN HEAVYWEIGHT DECIDER” says that pretty clearly.

In modern times, thanks to pioneers like Vettori and KP, the coach gets axed when there is any rumbling, and had Arthur not jumped, I’d say the dude was going to be thrown out the door like the poor unheard of bowling coach.

On reflection, all of Arthur’s talk leading up to the last test was like some salty old criminal looking for that final score he could retire on.

I might bag Saffas but I truly mean this, South Africa are a proud race, and unlike other countries, they don’t accept draws, even come from behind draws. So Arthur, with or without his score, was going.

Obviously the harmony between Smith and Arthur was strained, as it usually is when you are losing. We don’t know what went on the change rooms, but I doubt it was anything as fun as Graeme Smith drilling Arthur’s asshole and then giving him a reach around.

Now that South Africa have seemingly imploded, I feel at a loss, I sort of hoped they would run cricket with an iron kitten killing boot for a few years so I would have plenty of material.

That seems highly unlikely now, as it stands their only chance of beating India would be Sachin coming out as a cross dresser on the eve of the first test, and even then they’d still need a green deck.

I almost feel sorry for them.

Almost.

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The CWB Interview: Daryl Harper

Being conscientious types, we at CWB feed don’t spend our rain breaks sat on the sofa doing nothing. Oh no. We use the time to get to the heart of the day’s issues. Which is why we worked our collective nuts off to secure an interview with Daryl Harper:

CWB:  So, Daryl, tell us about that Smith decision

Harper: Hello?

CWB: How does it feel to have committed one of the biggest cock-ups in umpiring history?

Harper: Is there anyone there?

CWB: Can you hear us?

Harper: Oi, lackey, I thought you said those cunts from Cricket With Balls were on the line?

CWB: We are! Can you hear us.

Harper: Well, I’m not sitting here with this stupid headset on all day, I’ve got cake to eat.

CWB: Daryl, you thick git, turn the volume up!

Harper: Nope, still can’t hear anyone.

CWB: Turn. The. Volume. Up.

Harper: No-one there. Right…

CWB: TURN THE VOLUME UP!

Harper:…I’m off to see how many sandwiches you can stuff into Steve Davis before he explodes.

CWB: Oh, for fucks sake…

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Is Graeme Smith a cheat? No. Damn. (exclusive)

EDIT: Original post was based on the BBC article and also a few others from India about Smith Having a leg injury, he doesn’t, he has an arm/elbow or upper limb injury. The BBC is still running this as a leg injury, but as Brandon from the cricket corollary pointed out, in the SA the phsyio is quoted as saying it is his arm that is injured. Arm/Leg, same same.

So the post below, brilliant as it obviously is, is not correct. But I still like the phrase “This decision is based on Graeme’s current upper limb dysfunction.”

The other night Graeme Smith said he had cramp, and that he wanted a runner.

Strauss and the umpires weren’t comfortable with giving a runner for cramp and denied the request.

I was happy, Smith was pissed off, the world keeps turning.

Then I read this:

“South Africa captain Graeme Smith has pulled out of next month’s Champions League Twenty20 tournament in order to ensure he is fit to face England. Smith, who plays for the Cape Cobras, has been struggling with a leg injury, despite scoring 141 in a losing cause against England on Sunday. “

If he had a leg injury coming into that match, then he would not have been able to call for a runner.

From the laws of cricket:

1. Substitutes and runners
(a) If the umpires are satisfied that a player has been injured or become ill after the nomination of the players, they shall allow that player to have
(i) a substitute acting instead of him in the field.
(ii) a runner when batting.
Any injury or illness that occurs at any time after the nomination of the players until the conclusion of the match shall be allowable, irrespective of whether play is in progress or not.”

If the leg injury was so bad he is not being sent to India for the Champion’s League, and he didn’t actually injure himself in this match, then this is gloriously dodgy.

I do not doubt he had cramp (not a fat joke, he looks slim to me), but he also had a pre-existing leg injury, which should have meant that he couldn’t ask for a runner under the rules of cricket.

The cunning prick probably thought he was getting around his injury by using the cramp, and then Strauss ruined that.

The SA team physiotherapist said he should be out of cricket for 4-6 weeks.

Being that it appears he didn’t pick the injury up against England, and it was serious enough to keep him out of action for a month the question has to be asked, was Graeme Smith cheating when he called for a runner?

I’ve grown to not despise Graeme Smith of recent times.

He is still not my favourite cricketer, but I do love his ability to play hurt.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t a cheat.

Not that cheating means I will turn against him, I sort of respect him more.

It should also be said I respect who ever uttered this:

“This decision is based on Graeme’s current upper limb dysfunction.”

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Strauss hates runners

The other night I had a go at Strauss for calling back Mathews after he had run into Graham Onions.

The umpires had told Mathews he was out, but then Strauss gestured to the umpires for him to be brought back on the ground.

I thought it was disgusting behavior.

Last night Strauss redeemed himself.

He didn’t allow Graeme Smith a runner.

Technically, and by technically I mean in the laws of cricket, the fielding team has no say in it. Just like he didn’t technically call back Mathews, he withdrew his appeal. How he did that from 5 metres away with a hand gesture that mimed waiving him back onto the pitch.

It is the umpire’s call on a runner, the umpires clearly didn’t think a runner was the right option, but went to Strauss to see if he cared, he did.

But not for the reasons I thought, “fuck him it is only cramp”, he had an almost theological reason, he doesn’t believe in runners.

Had Smith had a broken leg Strauss probably would have let him have a runner, but for cramp he put his foot down.

I personally don’t think having cramp is a good enough reason for a runner, but now I am drawn by Strauss’ theory to abolish runners altogether.

There are few greater sites than when a batsman gets injured and starts swinging away, it has a gladiatorial feel to it, but then the impish waddle to backward square leg often ruins it for me. If he has to run and deal with the pain on every level that is truly a supreme effort of bravery and heroics. Also, watching Smith trying to run after big heaves really made me feel warm.

But then what about the comical run outs. Sure the hobbling might get a few runs out, but runner’s run outs are great. No one knows where anyone is, the fielders throw to the wrong end, there are 3 batsmen all behind one crease and even the umpires take a few seconds to look around and work everything out.

Do we want that taken from the game?

I don’t know.

I will never agree with cramps getting a runner, and this is from someone who gets massive cramps and has when he was in peak fitness, and now in unpeak fitness.

But to abolish the runner altogether, is that the way to go…

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Hand out the shotguns, Jeremy

Jeremy Snape has the worst job in the world.

Imagine having to fix the heads of the South Africans after they fucked up yet another time on the international stage (even on the less important games).

I would write out the list of all the times South Africa have stuffed up when being the favourite or one of the favourites for a major tournament, but I don’t have the time.

Even when they had the chance to beat Australia for the world number 1 test spot in Sydney they fucked up, and then they went home and lost that series as well.

What is wrong with them?

No, really, what is wrong.

Because choking is one thing, but they never even did that in this tournament, they were just outplayed by England, and smashed by Sri Lanka.

They didn’t get close enough to choke.

Smith put them on his new stream line shoulders and tried to carry them, but have you ever tried to carry 10 men, it is fucking hard.

He couldn’t do it, and again South Africa are out before the tournament final.

Snape’s job is untenable.

They don’t need therapists, psychologists, counsellors or anyone sitting on a couch.

They need a room alone, a shotgun, and “The Mercy Seat” by Johnny Cash on constant repeat.

Only in blowing their heads off can a South African cricketer completely get their headspace right.

It will be less messy than actually talking to them.

I promise.

Certain players should be excluded, right now I can only think of Graeme Smith.

But there must be others.

Everyone else should be a mess on the floor/wall.

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