CAPE TOWN // With reference to June's Fifa World Cup, the New Year edition of South African newspaper The Star declared: "2010 will be SA's year". It is pertinently important for the country's success as a sporting nation that South Africa start the year with a bang. The Newlands Test starting today provides South African sport with a first chance to show the world what they can in a year that may well shape its well-being.
But Graeme Smith, the Proteas captain, says he is not feeling extra burden, despite an horrendous 2009. South Africa won just once in six Tests during last year but Smith claims his side will not be doing anything any differently. "International sportsmen, whatever code you play in, never lose the pressure," he said. "From when you are playing your first game or when you become captain, the expectations of the nation don't go away and you find your ways to deal with the pressure.
"We've prepared well and there will be pressure moments but let's hope we can deal with them better than England." Despite the recent poor form, Smith is more than happy to continue in a job he started in 2003. "You constantly re-assess your position as captain even through the good times," he said. "You think 'are you the right man for the job'? From a personal perspective, I'm fine with that and I'm comfortable with what I've achieved. I'll obviously be proud to carry on as long as I continue to believe I will be a success.
"I'm comfortable with the position but I can't say I'm feeling any extra pressure in terms of the job. I've just gone about focusing on being the best captain I can be. "It took me two to three years to get used to the job. But I feel I have started to take steps forward. We've not performed well of late but nothing has changed around the group, the players are the right players but they need to be challenged and pushed a bit harder."
South Africa look set to make changes with the spot of Makhaya Ntini, who has played 101 Test matches, especially under threat. Ntini has only taken two wickets this series with Friedel de Wet, who came close to winning the first Test in Centurion for the hosts, set to return. "Makhaya is a sensitive issue in South Africa," admitted Smith. "He's not only the most iconic player of colour we have but probably one of our most iconic cricketers in terms of performance over the last 10 years. When senior players are at the point where questions are being asked, it is always a tough and terrible time for them. We've tried to support Makhaya and give him as much as we can behind the scenes. He's been working hard at his game and let's hope there's some confidence left in him for the future."
Coach Mickey Arthur was set to make the final decision on team selection last night with the hosts tight-lipped on any other changes. But Smith remains confident his side can deliver at a venue where they have won 14 out of 18 matches - regardless of which team is selected. "It's a ground we have a lot of confidence in, we have a style suited to Newlands and everyone knows their role here," he added.
"The groundsman has done a terrific job with the pitch, I've not seen an outfield looks this good in a while. The pitch has got an even grass covering so it will be interesting to see how it looks in the morning and hope we make the right decision with the toss."