Smith approaches Border’s Test record

2012-04-21 17:18

Graeme Smith and Allan Border share a few similarities. Both are left-handed batsmen and captained their countries through trying times and successes.

And now the 31-year-old Smith is approaching Border’s 1994 record of 93 Test matches as captain. Smith’s tally stands at 91, but it has not been an easy trip. Health and injury permitting, Smith will pass the landmark in the third Test against England at Lords on August 16.

His tenure began in the aftermath of the disastrous 2003 Cricket World Cup, when as hosts, South Africa bombed out of the group stages through poor selection and the infamous Duckworth-Lewis bungling.

Much like Border, Smith was thrust into the position unexpectedly. Test cricket captaincy is not for the fainthearted.

Just look at what it did to Kim Hughes, who broke down after beatings at the hands of the all-conquering West Indians in 1984.

Smith’s captaincy wheel will come full circle away to England, a country which has seen the best and worst of the ungainly but effective lefty.

It was on the 2003 tour where he embarrassed then England captain Nasser Hussain to the tune of 277 runs at Edgbaston, then a South African record for the most runs scored in a Test innings.

For good measure, he added another 259 at Lords before faltering in the rest of the series. The worst in him was realised in the 2004/05 series when Matthew Hoggard reduced Smith to a walking wicket.

In fairness, Smith is not as astute a captain as Mark Taylor (Australia) or Imran Khan (Pakistan). The former had an ability to force a result where none looked likely with smart field placements and canny bowling changes.

He was backed up by bowling greats Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, while Khan cajoled and brought together a team of talented but divided individuals into a group that thrice came close to usurping the West Indies in the 1980s.

However, his inability to win an ICC tournament will forever blot Smith’s CV.

Even though he has shown the brilliance of Jacques Kallis, the explosive Dale Steyn and more recently, the metronomic Vernon Philander, Smith was never a game breaker as Taylor, Steve Waugh and Sir Viv Richards were, but he has still been able to manufacture positive results after the lows of 2005 and 2006.

As much as the upcoming England tour will be a celebration of Smith’s durability, it will also provide insight into whether Smith can turn the Proteas into a ruthless world-beating outfit, or whether the time to groom his successor has come.

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