The Graeme Smith of today has an edge over the Graeme Smith of a few years ago. He has learnt the advantage of being subtle. The captaincy, handed over to him under remarkably tough conditions — when South African cricket was contemplating a purge of sorts after what was seen as an opportunity lost tragically at their home World Cup, and in the midst of a debate over racial quotas — has seemingly fitted him like a second skin.
The brash youngster of then first shot into prominence when he angered the Aussies by taking what they considered sacrosanct 'on-the-field' stuff to the media — the sledging they reportedly gave him. And later, after becoming captain, he angered parts of the cricketing establishment in South Africa by saying everyone in the team had to deal with him on his terms whether they liked it or not. Now, he seems far more content. The aggression is still there, it is evident in some of the things he says, but is tempered by humour, albeit somewhat sardonic.
Smith, only 25, probably still wants to change the world but has apparently decided it's better to have some help. He said as much on Monday. "I was made captain at 22 and have developed a lot in the last three years after playing all around the world. I am much more calm and at peace with the job. I enjoy it thoroughly and am very fortunate to be blessed with a good bunch of cricketers and that makes the job much easier."
The South African skipper, who lashed out at the Brabourne wicket after the loss to New Zealand, also seemed to have calmed down about it. "We have not made a big fuss about it, that our wicket was different from the Australia-West Indies match wicket. As long as decisions are made in the best interest of the game and they even things up, it is fine."
But he is still very much his own man. Asked what he had learnt from other skippers — the reference was to Kiwi captain Stephen Fleming's record number of games as captain — he said it 'depends'. "You can learn from the experiences of others but it's important you learn from the things that make your own culture into a good nation, a strong nation," said Smith. "South Africa is a good cricketing nation and our diversity is our strength. I think it would be as difficult for Stephen to understand us, as it would be for me to understand them." And that was that.