Peter Robinson

Saga clouds Smith's triumph

2005-05-10 07:41

Quite what Graeme Smith said to Wayne Bravo, or, more pertinently, what Dwayne Bravo thought Graeme Smith said to him on the last day of the fourth Test match has not been made clear, suffice to say that Bravo believed himself to have been racially abused.

Whether this was actually so, though, is likely to remain a moot point.

Smith was cleared of any wrongdoing by the match referee and wants an apology from Bravo. West Indies officials, on the other hand, have pledged their support for Bravo.

None of which, of course, is any proof of anything.

What we can say with some confidence, though, is that Smith would have had to be a particularly stupid young man to have employed racial epithets to sledge a West Indies player. And anyone who has had anything to do with Smith will vouch for the fact that whatever Smith is or isn't, he's not stupid.

Racial terms

In other words, it's inconceivable that a man who captains a mixed South African team and whose premier fast bowler in the Test series was a black man would have challenged a West Indies player in racial terms.

More likely, perhaps, is that Bravo may have misheard something. The South Africans use a lot of Afrikaans on the field.

It is entirely possible that in the heat of battle, even a battle as tedious and drawn-out as that fought out in Antigua, Bravo may have thought he heard something that had not, in fact, been said.

The great pity is that this messy and unpleasant episode aside, the Caribbean tour has been a personal triumph for Smith. He has batted with determination and efficiency and has led the side intelligently.

You only have to go back a little more than a year to remember how Smith was out-thought and outfoxed by Stephen Fleming in New Zealand as South Africa began to fall apart.

You can barely recognise the South Africans from the unhappy bunch that left New Zealand and went to Sri Lanka later in the year. The transformation has been remarkable.

Some of the credit, surely, has to go to Ray Jennings, unorthodox methods and all, as well as a selection convener who seems to know what he wants (even if he takes the occasional detour to get there). But it has been Smith whose progress has been the most impressive.

Say what you like about the standard of this West Indies team, the South Africans have looked confident and assured after being caught flat-footed in the first Test.

Clouded

They've played, to use a phrase, smart cricket and it's an immense pity that their achievements have been clouded by this unpleasant row.

Smith is young enough and durable enough to come out of it unscathed. His demand for an apology probably seems to him a necessary step towards completely clearing his name, but whether it completely nails the fuss down remains to be seen.

In such circumstances, what is really needed is both the South Africa and the West Indies administrators to sit down and sort it all out. The sooner they do this the better. Both teams need it and so, for that matter, do both Smith and Bravo.

Send your comments to Peter or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

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