You ever seen a bear coming out of hibernation in the spring? It looks sprightly, and eager, and wicked skinny, with flaps of loose skin hanging down like old labia from his every quarters.
I was hoping to come out like that at the end of the winter -- yet another miserable, blustery one for the Kiwi books -- fresh and ready for new sights and new adventures; a springtime of body and mind. I didn't feel like being bothered before that. Sometimes, though, noises outside the den rock your sleep and force you to begrudgingly get up and check out the commotion.
Noises like this Guest Column on cricinfo, after the conclusion of South Africa's Test series against England...
I suppose I could count as a fierce Smith critic, since I have attacked him numerous times for his many sins. So is Houwing right? Is this the end of the road? Is there nothing left to do than kneel at the Capt'n's feet and repentantly accept his highly load?
Um, how about... no?
I understand that journalists, commentators, and those in the loop all love Graeme Smith. They can barely hide their chubbies under their pants half the time. And it makes sense. He's jovial and gregarious. He jokes with them. Gives them good quote. Makes them feel like they belong. (He's even got the hot blonde girlfriend with no reservation about parading her hotness around in public). I get all that. If you wanted to have a cricketer over for a barbeque, Smith'll probably be the one.
But what exactly am I supposed to "salute" the guy for? For his team winning a series against a mediocre, has-been English squad? His 2nd-ranked team (which apparently also houses a better all-rounder than Garry Sobers) beating the 5th-ranked team, a team whose spearhead for the series was James Anderson, and who at one stage shared the new ball with Darren fuckin' Pattinson?! Get serious.
Oh that's right, it's because South Africa's first victory in hallowed English soil 43 years, right? That's why it's such an event. Brave King Graeme, conquering territory uncharted since 1965...
Well, not quite. Twenty-five of those years were covered by apartheid, so it doesn't seem fair to include them as part of the "legacy of loss" which Smith apparently inherited. (By that logic, we could also claim that South Africa went undefeated for a quarter of a century, and have suffered one of the most vicious continued declines, comparable to that of the West Indies, for almost two decades since.)
Even after readmission in 1992, though, it's not as if South Africa have performed that badly while touring England. They drew twice (in 1994 and 2003), and lost only once (1998) by a one game margin. Are these unbearable crosses to bear? Hardly. If Smith wants to impress, he can try beating the Aussies or the Sri Lankans on their turf. Then I'll listen.
But okay, fine, I guess England is somehow relevant in the grand scheme of things because, um... it's old. (And that
oldness tradition, after being unabatedly pumped into cricketers' heads since childhood, can start to screw with their minds, cause them to feel an added level of pressure and make them a tad more likely to fail when playing against said old foe.)
So basically Smith & co. managed to not lose a series they should've been favoured to win from the start. Congratulations, boys, you didn't choke for once. Want a parade?
As for Smith himself, I'll credit him for his innings at Edgbaston. I have no problem with that. To score an unbeaten century in the fourth innings while chasing 280 is an impressive feat under any conditions, and I'll be glad to applaud anyone for their batting prowess in a situation like that. Great knock.
But that's a mere batting feat, and the credit it deserves is purely on terms of batsmanship, of the same kind as Ashwell Prince's two very Chanderpaulesque centuries and Neil McKenzie's 500-ball extravaganza to guarantee the draw at Lord's. It doesn't deserve any greater praise because it comes from Smith, or from whoever happens to be the captain.
[N.B. The idea of a "captain's innings", incidentally, is another one of those cricket clichés that is hollow to the point of meaninglessness. Isn't every innings played by a captain, by definition, a "captain's knock"? If it isn't, then what quality does it possess that differentiates it from a regular good knock? Is there a certain kind of good innings played by a captain that does not qualify for "captain's innings" status? Why does a quality innings that just so happens to be played by a captain apply to a rarefied level of achievement?]