Iron will helps Smith to forge a bond of steel

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The Independent Online

The South African selectors were taking a big chance when, in a knee-jerk reaction to their early departure from the World Cup, they appointed 22-year-old Graeme Smith captain in place of Shaun Pollock. He has barely dipped his toe in the waters of international cricket, yet he is now in charge of a number of older and much more experienced players. It was a recipe for disaster.

These are early days, but he has made an excellent impression so far in this one-day series. He is a big man, which is probably a psychological help. He is someone who has no doubt that he should be captain of his country and, indeed, when he was originally selected, more or less said that he was expecting it.

He is his own man, knows his own mind and is not afraid to let everyone know he is the boss. He also understands the game well and is not a captain who waits for something to turn up. He is always trying to make things happen. In this game at Sophia Gardens he was always in control after he had put Zimbabwe in to bat on a poor one-day pitch.

He changes the bowling intelligently, his field placings are shrewd and he is always ready and eager to listen to whatever his colleagues may suggest to him, although he has the final word. The excellent team spirit within the South African dressing room is self-evident.

It is greatly to his credit that the older and more experienced players have been happy to put their weight behind him. Pollock had every right to feel miffed by the manner of his sacking from the captaincy, yet he has not shown this for a single instance. He offered Smith his full support from the moment he was chosen and his superb bowling has shown just how whole-hearted this support is.

Jacques Kallis is suddenly producing the best form of his life, in spite of having to cope with sad happenings in his private life. Mark Boucher is keeping wicket as well, if not better, than ever. This would not all be happening if the South African dressing-room was not a happy place.

Smith himself is whole-hearted to the nth degree. He is afraid of no one and when his Test career began against Australia two years ago he was soon countering Antipodean sledging in fine style, as he swapped epithet for epithet.

One important point in Smith's favour is that he never played with Hansie Cronje and is unaffected by that disgraceful episode, either by implication or by rumour. Whenever Cronje's behaviour is mentioned or legacies of his activities are raked over, Smith can hold his head high and speak his mind.

The one blemish on his performance so far is his lack of runs in the present competition, but he is such a good attacking left-hander that his best form will soon return. There was every indication at Cardiff that this is not far away. His punishing drives were beginning to work and he was playing the ball away off his legs as to the manner born. Before the summer is out he will surely entertain all but the most partisan.

Smith is becoming a most impressive figure and South African cricket will be glad of him for many years to come. He has done all that has been asked of him so far and the one challenge that awaits him is to see how he handles himself in a series of close Test matches. We may well know the answer to that before the end of this summer, with a five-match series coming up.