Oz ahead! A spot of bother for SA

The Proteas will face the Aussies on April 25 unless they sink to a titanic defeat against New Zealand, reports Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.

cricket Updated: Apr 19, 2007 02:15 IST

It is not necessary but captains sometimes have to make statements about leading from the front by leading from the front in terms of performance. Most successful leaders in cricket have done that and it is pointless wasting time looking for names.

Not too many of them had, however, been thrown to the deep end of the pool at a young age and this puts Graeme Smith in a special bracket. Taking charge at 22 after the World Cup shipwreck in 2003, he has not transformed his team into the top Test side, but made them worthy challengers to Australia’s might in one-day cricket.

Smith's team will face Australia in St Lucia on April 25 unless the two-time defending champions sink to a titanic defeat against New Zealand in their last Super Eight match and finish second on inferior run rate. And any match featuring these two after the Wonder of Wanderers sends the mercury soaring, more so because South Africa had also snatched the ODI rankings crown from Australia for a short period.

“What pleases me most is the character this team has shown,” he said. “It may sound clichéd, but they just love their country and take defeats very seriously.”

Smith was referring to his task as captain which included steering the team clear of the crooked shadow of match-fixing, with the tag of ‘chokers’ adding to the discomfort. "I think we have demolished that ghost... It as a big game because it was a question of making the semifinals."

The bit about 'demolishing the ghost' was probably premature because South Africa were heavily tipped to qualify for the last four and the fact that they have so far suffered three defeats against Australia in the group league and against Bangladesh and New Zealand after that does not augur well for a side that thinks it can be the best. When this was pointed out, Smith came up with a smart answer, as he usually does.

"It's good in a way that we had to wait till the last match instead of cruising to the semifinals,” the captain said. “We have had to work hard and this puts us on a high. We are in the best possible shape because it has never been easy for us.”

He admitted still that the immediate challenge was to master the conditions in St Lucia, where the pitch would not help his quick bowlers like it did in Barbados.

"Yes, we know it can be totally different in the semifinal. But we also know that to achieve what we want, we must win on every surface, even if it means playing on a slow one, which we usually don't get in South Africa.”

The outspoken youngster who often offended a few with what seemed like arrogance has come a long way. His batting and powerful body language on the field has shown that he is about being aggressive. How he handles himself and his team in the biggest match of his career will be closely watched when the focus shifts to St Lucia.

First Published: Apr 19, 2007 00:26 IST