Graeme Smith's battle against the English pack could be decisiveGraeme Smith announced his arrival at the international stage both as a batsman and a captain during South Africa’s tour to England in 2003 © Getty Images

 


From the young captain who rose to the occasion in England in 2003 to a matured leader who won them the series five years later, Graeme Smith has come a long way. His record in England is enviable as his contributions have been pivotal in South Africa’s success on previous visits. This time around he faces a tougher challenge as England’s bowlers have their tails up. 

 

Nishad Pai Vaidya looks forward the clash between Smith and the formidable English bowling attack.

 

 

In the aftermath of the dramatic and heartbreaking exit from the 2003 World Cup, the South African management pulled a rabbit out of the hat by appointing a 22-year old Graeme Smith as captain. The appointment was a huge shock as it came ahead of established names such as Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher – men who had served South Africa for a number of years. In contrast, Smith had been on the international circuit for a year and wasn’t originally a part of the World Cup squad. His first assignment as captain came in Bangladesh – which wasn’t much of a challenge. However, the tour to England later that year was his acid test and he sailed through with flying colours.

 

South Africa’s tour to England in 2003 would be remembered for the way Smith announced his arrival at the international stage both as a batsman and a captain. He stroked two double hundreds in the first two Tests of the series to set the tone for the South African challenge. Since then, he has taken a liking to the England attack and his numbers truly justify that claim.

His record against England:

 

M Runs Avg 100s 50s Highest
18 1779 57.38    6   5    277

 

These numbers are fantastic, but they could have been more phenomenal had Smith not suffered a tough phase during England’s tour to South Africa in 2004-05. In other contests between the two sides he has dominated and scored two tons in each series. In fact, if one considers his record in England alone, the stats are even better.

Here are the relevant numbers:

 

M Runs Avg 100s 50s Highest
9 1083 72.20    4   1    277

 

Smith has asserted his dominance in fine fashion in England. He scored the mammoth 277 in his very first outing in England – a score that overhauled South Africa’s highest Test score (previous best was Daryll Cullinan’s 275). Although that Test match meandered towards a draw, Smith’s other memorable vigils have produced the right result. In the next Test at Lord’s, he scored 259 which along with Makhaya Ntini’s ten-wicket wicket haul setup a memorable triumph for the Proteas. In 2008, his brilliant 154 not out helped them chase down a total in the fourth innings.

 

One mustn’t forget that the English bowling attack Smith faced in previous encounters was a different one. James Anderson and Stuart Broad are the only England fast-bowlers of the current crop who were a part of the 2008 series. Tim Bresnan and Steve Finn would get their first taste of the Proteas this time around. Even Graeme Swann, the off-spinner, didn’t feature in the 2008 series – although he was a part of England’s tour to South Africa in 2009-10. With momentum behind them, Smith would encounter a different bowling attack this time around – one that has all the goods to dominate the best in business.

 

Here is a list of England bowlers who have dismissed Smith the most number of times in Test cricket:

 

 

Bowler M Dismissals
James Anderson 14        5
Andrew Flintoff 13        5
Mathew Hoggard   5        4
Steve Harmison 10        3
Ashley Giles   9        3
Graham Onions   3        2
Martin Bicknell   2        2
James Kirtley   2        2
Stuart Broad   7        1
Graeme Swann   4        1

 

Anderson would pose a real threat to Smith with his movement. Broad would want to improve his record against the South African skipper as England would look to him for early breakthroughs. Bresnan is yet to play a Test against South Africa and his style of bowling would spice up the contest. A swing bowler like Hoggard has the best record against Smith and Bresnan should pull a leaf out of his book.

 

During the 2004-05 series in South Africa, the hosts faced a tough time against a quality England fast-bowling attack that contained Harmison, Flintoff,  Hoggard and Simon Jones to name a few. That is the only series against England during which Smith didn’t score big runs. Although, there have been two competitive series’ between the two sides since that contest, it is safe to say that this is the best England attack Smith would face.

 

It would be a bigger challenge – one Smith would love to overcome similar to his first tour to the country in 2003. Back then he was a tyro trying to establish his credentials as a player and leader, but now he is a senior pro with the wealth of experience behind him. Kevin Pietersen’s contest against Dale Steyn and Co. may hog the limelight, but Smith’s battle against the English pack can be decisive.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)