How Smith and Warne shaped the Test success

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by Trevor Chesterfield

South Africa’s sixth captain since the end of isolation, Graeme Smith has admitted how he learnt a lot from Shane Warne when playing in the Indian Premier League.

It has been argued as well how this combination and SMS texts by Warne to Smith in Perth did much to boost the Proteas and take an unexpected 1-0 win when chasing down the second highest Test fourth innings total needed to clinch a match.

The telegraph from some suggest Warne’s comments that he had not seen an Australian team so quiet on the field as Smith and Neil McKenzie began a searching for a platform needed to win the game. There are plenty of theories as well from outsiders with their views and gatecrashing the victory party. Some were pointing to Jeremy Snape for plotting the downfall of the Australians.

Snape, a mouthy Englishman, knows Smith and Warne through the Rajasthan Royals, and suggest those far from the action it is Snape and his so-called mentoring style that changed the sway the Proteas were thinking. While these factors have played a role in South Africa’s success, as the coach Mickey Arthur, agreed, the players still had to perform in the middle to win the match.

As he also pointed out, the side has been on the road since October 2007 and the tour of Pakistan and Snape was not part of that set up, but in beating Australia, there are those likely to be eager to get in on the act because of some of the things Snape said about how players should be thinking.

Overlooked is how Duncan Fletcher had been part of the South African consulting team in Perth, as part of Arthur’s quest for ideas of how to beat Australia at home. That is expected in such cases as Fletcher’s quiet backroom role.

Some of the background to this is that many months ago, when Smith was bought by the Rajasthan Royals franchise for the IPL slogs, his captain-cum-coach, Warne wasn’t exactly charmed by the thought of Smith being in his side. Smith had wailed as would a spoiled adolescent when making his debut in Cape Town in the 2001/02 series about the sledging received as well as advice of how to hold the bat, as he shaped to face his first delivery.

The Proteas batting technique at best in the opening Test of that second series that summer at the Wanderers, resembled efforts borrowed from a nearby Alexandria township scrapyard. Here was a first world stadium showcasing a local production and team that was decidedly third world in ability. Little wonder they were thrashed inside three and a half days.

During the 2005/06 tour of Oz, Smith, still smarting from his experiences with Australia in his first series, admitted he had a need to get the Aussie monkey off his back. He also admitted that planning for this current Australia tour had started at the end of that series when he and Arthur held talks and put a five-year plan together with Gerald Majola, the streetwise Cricket South Africa chief executive in on the talks.

While the initial programme was a two-year that was rolled into a three-year stage, the bigger picture surrounded tours from 2007 through to the end of the 2008/09 season and a longer range plan to involve the 2011 World Cup. As Majola explained, there was a lot of work to do and planning as long as the long-term vision wasn’t lost.

While at times the transformation and affirmative action story partly derailed this progress, it needed the disgraceful events surrounding the Charl Langeveldt and Andre Nel episode to tell the politicians it is time they respected the efforts Cricket South Africa were employing to build a match-winning side.

‘It’s fair to say we started talking about this (Australia) tour almost as soon as we arrived home three years ago,’ Smith admitted in a television interview after the Melbourne Test. ‘It has always been in the back of our minds, even through this year (2008) when we had tours to India and England.

‘If I was still in the habit of sticking notes on my fridge door, I would have stuck one there three years ago and it would simply have said: “Win in Australia next time.” The challenge now, as it was with my captaincy, is not to treat the achievement as “mission accomplished” but to use it as the start of a brand new journey, a new era.

‘I can assure you there will be absolutely no sense of anti-climax about the Sydney Test. We are all very aware of the prize that awaits us if we can win again and we have all dreamed of being number one.’

Note: Prior permission has sought from the author before republication of the above article.

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