Captain fantastic fires South Africa

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The Independent Online

Graeme Smith, South Africa's 22-year-old captain, has had an astonishing first Test against England. He came into it to the disconcerting background music of murmurings about him within his own dressing-room and yet for every minute of the match he led from the front.

First he made 277, the highest individual Test score by a South African, then followed it with 85 in 70 balls in the second innings, and was always in control in the field. He had had a poor one-day series with the bat and his ways of captaincy, both on and off the field, are different from those of his predecessor, Shaun Pollock.

Smith knows his own mind and is not afraid to speak it. It would have been hardly surprising if some of his colleagues in the dressing-room were suspicious and keen to see what he was made of. He is now in an unassailable position. The doubters, whoever they were, must surely now have a considerable respect for him. Not only has he an impressively sound batting technique; he also has an astonishingly mature head on his young shoulders.

Smith is not one of those tall, willowy left-handers who are elegance personified, but there is an unflappable authority about him at the crease. Nothing worried him. The way in which he put all the other pressures behind him and got on with the job in hand was remarkable in one so young. He is a most powerful stroke-maker on both sides of the wicket and is also an excellent player of spin bowling.

He approaches the job of captaincy in the field with the same authority and certainty. There are clearly no grey areas in his mind, although he seems happy enough to listen to anything that his colleagues may have to suggest before making up his own mind.

He tries to make things happen and although he might have turned to Pollock at the start of the last day, there was good reason for continuing with Dewald Pretorius. He is always doing his best to change things around when two batsmen are becoming ensconced in a long partnership.

He has looked an inspired choice and could be in the job for at least 10 years. And it would not be surprising if he led his country back to the top of the Test pile at some stage of his career. His was a vastly impressive performance at Edgbaston.

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