x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

No ankle problems as Graeme Smith puts best foot forward

South African captain happy that there were no major recovery issues from the heat and the ankle injury.

Graeme Smith came back from a spell out due to injury to score his fifth double Test hundred. Hassan Ammar / AP Photo
Graeme Smith came back from a spell out due to injury to score his fifth double Test hundred. Hassan Ammar / AP Photo

After the toil of batting for 134 overs and all the way through what he described as being the hottest day on tour so far, Graeme Smith probably slept as soundly as a newborn last night.

If he did stir at any point, South Africa’s captain did have a few questions to ponder.

Most pertinently: shall we pull out sometime soon and get stuck into Pakistan’s fragile batting line-up – or plough on and see if we can get to a thousand?

This Proteas side are capable of it. They still have JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis patiently waiting their turn to have a go batting on another shirt front at Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

A 99-all-out pitch, this patently is not.

But Smith and AB de Villiers, with an unbroken stand already worth 326 under their waistbands, could probably do it on their own.

They would be pretty exhausted by then, mind. Many has been the time over the course of cricket’s history that a captain has run out of ideas when trying to dismiss a great batsman on a flat pitch, and resorted to the desperate ploy of playing for run-outs instead.

For much of yesterday afternoon it seemed as though Pakistan were bowling in the hope they could get the opposition batsmen out injured. Or tired out.

Cricket on pitches like these is clearly a war of attrition for bowlers. Mohammed Irfan, Pakistan’s diligent pace spearhead, officially started this match 7ft 1ins tall. By the end of this South African battery, he will probably be nearer to 5ft 4ins.

But the batsmen were suffering in the heat, too. Every time De Villiers played a hook shot, he winced in pain from his left calf. So Pakistan’s quicker bowlers pummelled the middle of the wicket hoping he would succumb, if not to the normal modes of dismissal, then to cramp.

Smith, too, was limping when he ran between the wickets as his double-century approached. A relic of recent surgery on his ankle, most likely, rather than a sign of the cramp that has afflicted him in the past in his career.

By stumps, he probably had an all-over body ache. Maybe he will have slept in an ice bath, in a hyperbaric chamber while overdosing on isotonic drinks to get ready for this morning.

Given there are more runs to be had out there, he will be keen to be ready to go again.

Smith said he derived a perverse, sadistic pleasure when he saw his batting partner, and close friend, De Villiers, struggling with his leg strain.

“The body is tired but I’m happy I didn’t cramp today, which for me is a big thing,” said Smith, who will start again this morning on 227 not out.

“The whippersnapper on the other side [De Villiers] got a little bit of cramp, which made me happy.

“My ankle held up extremely well, which I am grateful for. I have put a lot of hard work in since I came off crutches.

“It was major surgery so there are lot of times when you wonder if it is going to hold up and if it is going to handle it. It has all paid off today.”

Smith acknowledged that he most likely will give more thought to when to declare over his cornflakes this morning than he did while he was at the crease.

With three days left in the game, and the pitch still benign, there is no rush for him to pull the ladder up. Better to bat on to the point where the wicket might start to play up.

He would be well within his rights to bat on to the point where Hashim Amla’s South Africa record score of 311 would be endangered.

Regaining that mantle would be fitting for a player whose Test career run haul passed 9,000 runs yesterday.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been the most talented but I have worked out a way to score runs and understand how to do it,” Smith said.

“They are small milestones that make you very proud.”


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Audio: Smith threatens to rub more salt in Pakistan’s wounds