On the eve of the third Test, as the vultures began to clear their throats, Graeme Smith was unequivocal. He said: "If you ask a lot of your players then you have to stand up and deliver. On the big occasions against England and Australia away I was the man of the series and this is another big test for myself and the team here."
Predictably but formidably, he met that test yesterday with an innings of staunch authority which made it resoundingly clear once more that he has not held down the job of captain of South Africa for six years for nothing. There were accusations of interfering with the ball going around. The certainty is that nobody interfered with it like Smith.
He is imbued with strength of character. All series he has stood in the slips chewing gum, wearing green sunglasses which make him seem like an anti-hero from a Marvel comic, rousing his troops and occasionally chiding the opposition. But it is when he has a bat in his hand that he is at his most imposing.
There is nothing elegant about Smith's method and none of his 19 Test centuries including the latest in the canon yesterday has been renowned for delicacy of touch. It could be said that he is at the other end of the left-handers' spectrum from David Gower and Frank Woolley. He probably thinks that caressing the ball is for wimps.
But he is some opponent. He has had to be. He is captain of a side which is never sure who is picking it and he has constantly had to play the diplomat while asserting clear command over his men.
Although South Africa had won away series in England and Australia in 2008 and drawn one in India not long before there was the sense that Smith might be made to feel the strain as this match in Newlands began. South Africa had lost their return series at home to Australia earlier this year, they had been roundly defeated by England in Durban a week ago, they had been dozily indifferent in the Champions Trophy on home soil. How long could it go on?
Like the true, natural leader he is, Smith said: "You constantly reassess your position as captain. Even in the good times I've asked whether I'm the right man for the job and personally I'm pretty relaxed and comfortable about what I've been through as captain and what I've achieved. It is still my team and there is no doubt about that. If I didn't I'd walk away. I'll be hugely proud to carry on for as long as I think I can be successful in it. I've seen two England captains walk away at different stages of my career so I've understood the whys and wherefores of things. If people felt differently about me then we'd move on and extend my career in other ways."
Over more than five hours and 243 balls of increasing violence against the ball he put his side in command of their own destiny yesterday.Reuse content