It is not easy to appreciate the full extent of Graeme Smith's triumphs in these first two Test matches, although the bald statistics are impressive enough. In three innings he has batted for a total of 20 hours and a quarter while scoring 621 runs. His 277 at Edgbaston is the highest Test score by a South African, and his 259 is the highest by an overseas player in a Test at Lord's, but even these facts do not tell the full story.
Smith is only 22 and has just been made captain of South Africa in mildly controversial circumstances. It appears now that he is one of those rare men who was clearly born to lead. When he first stepped on to the ground at Edgbaston there appeared to be some disturbing noises coming from the South African dressing room. His ways of captaincy were queried, and he had not had a prolific one-day series.
It was a huge ask for a 22-year-old, and we all know his reply. The doubters have been silenced in the most emphatic manner. As a captain in the field he has shown a surprising maturity and knowledge of the game for someone so young. He has handled his bowlers sensibly, he knows his own mind, he is not afraid to consult his colleagues and he is admirably decisive.
Single-handedly, Smith has, with his own batting, underlined the failings of England's batsmen. He has taught them an object lesson they would do well to learn, no one more so than the left-handed opener, Marcus Trescothick. How he must envy Smith's mental approach to the job of batting, which he should do his best to emulate.
It is Smith's mind that enables him to be positively Bradmanesque in his concentration. It also enables him to bat for immensely long periods while conducting a strict, self-denying ordinance. He knows where he is best able to score his runs, what his most productive strokes are, and where he wants the bowlers to bowl. He sets his stall accordingly.
Most of his runs come from four strokes: the square cut, the off drive, the pull, and he plays beautifully off his pads. The umbrella sheltering them all is a formidably compact defence. It all boils down to the important fact that he never attempts anything he is not sure that he can carry out successfully.
Trescothick is a flamboyant strokemaker who is blessed more than Smith with that natural elegance and panache that is the prerogative of many left-handers. Smith's style is clinically and ruggedly effective.
On the other hand, Trescothick's mindset is nothing like as formidable. He finds it almost impossible to restrain himself from taking fast bowlers onwell wide of the off stump, often without the benefit of footwork. He will resist three or four times, but the bowler knows he will take the bait before long. The Australian fast bowlers worked methodically away at him last winter. If he had been Smith, he would have refused to play at anything pitched up unless it was on or near to the stumps. This would have frustrated the bowlers and forced them to bowl closer to him, and then he would have found the ball in the areas where he prospers.
Smith's self-discipline is formidable; Trescothick's is not, as his dismissal yesterday evening demonstrated. They are both limited players, Smith probably more so, but he understands those limitations to perfection, and with monk-like abstinence makes sure that he plays within them. Like Don Bradman, Walter Hammond and Vinod Kambli, he has now scored double centuries in successive Test matches. Trescothick would like to join that group. If he is to do so, he needs to watch Smith pretty carefully.
Smith figures in history
277 runs in First Test innings, a South African record.
17 innings needed to reach 1,000 Test runs - the fastest by a South African, beating Eddie Barlow.
4 batsmen with double centuries in successive Tests. Joins Don Bradman (Australia, three times), Wally Hammond (England) and Vinod Kambli (India).
1 player (Graham Gooch, 333) has scored more runs in a Test innings at Lord's. Beat Bradman's 254.
621 runs in three innings of a series is a record, beating Gary Sobers' 599 against Pakistan in 1957-58.
20 hours at the crease. England's first three completed innings lasted a total of 15hr 03min.Reuse content