Hate him or love him, Biff brings it on

2012-07-28 00:00

THROUGHOUT history there have been men of character, blessed with more toughness and strength than others. Men of greatness and conquests. Some good, most bad, but remembered for their ruthlessness and what they left behind. William the Conquerer, Attilla the Hun, Ivan the Terrible, Robert the Bruce and now our own Graeme the Great.

Love him, hate him, fear him — credit must be given where it is due and Graeme Smith can never get enough appreciation for his service to South African cricket. Taking over the captaincy as a raw, still wet-behind-the-ears 22-year-old after the 2003 World Cup debacle against Sri Lanka when Shaun Pollock was in charge, he now stands on the brink of becoming the first captain to lead his country in 100 Tests.

He tried a bit too hard in the beginning, soon providing media and, sadly, people from his own country with a personality many loved to hate and criticise. Nearly 10 years down the line, he still battles to win support and is always the first name banded about when it comes to changing the team or dropping a player.

However, last Saturday at The Oval, he had to have endeared himself to even his most ardent critics with his 25th Test century, seventh against England, as he compiled 131 in a partnership of 259 with Hashim Amla, who went on to create his piece of history by being the first South African to make a triple century.

But it was Smith’s day and the icing on the cake was this being his 100th Test. His century saw him become the seventh member of an elite club of players who scored a hundred in their 100th Test, joining Colin Cowdrey, Javed Miandad, Ricky Ponting, Gordon Greenidge, Inzamam and Alec Stewart.

Something of an enigma, Smith is far from pretty at the crease, but his stats don’t lie. A Test average of 49,64 with 8 042 runs means he will always be spoken of in the higher echelons of the game.

His batting with Amla was like comparing a Rolls Royce with a rugged, uncompromising 4x4.

In cricket terms, everyone appreciates the Rolls, but it’s worth remembering a 4x4 can take on territory a Rolls would baulk at, let alone even look at.

Like a conqueror of old, Smith arrived in England like a hungry Viking keen to destroy all in his path. He stood on the English shore waving his trusty Gunn and Moore bat like a weapon of destruction and that’s exactly what it has become. For a brief moment — so fickle are followers of the game — he will be adored by his countrymen and trusted by them to lead the troops into battle.

But how long will it take before he is back in the dock, trying to defend himself against slander and distrust? Let’s enjoy the moment while we can. If he was a PlayStation game hero, granted he would use his health and show flashes of weakness every so often, but, as in real life, when energy and health are found, he is indestructible.

There are still two Tests to go and with Graeme the Great in full flow, swatting all in his path, the great British Empire is under threat and it’s best its cricketers run for cover.

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