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17 Aug 2012 03:00
Not quite living up to the occasion: Graeme Smith was out for 14 on the first day of the third Test against England - his 94th as captain of the Proteas. (Harry Engels, Getty Images)
Graeme Smith has never faced as many cameras outside the subcontinent as he did during the traditional captain's press conference before the Lord's Test.
And quite right, too, that the country's media should turn their post-Olympic attention to the man who on Thursday became the most capped captain of all time.
Except that nobody asked him about it. Not a single question.
After a dozen questions about Kevin Pietersen and his infamous text messages to South African players before and during the last Test match at Headingley, Smith was finally asked about the prospect of his team assuming the number one ranking by winning or drawing this match.
For the record, if anyone had been bothered to ask, his answer would have been: "I am extremely proud to have lasted this long in the job and to have had the support of my teammates. It's a very special thing. I don't count myself in the same echelons as Allan Border, Clive Lloyd and the likes of Steve Waugh; I just try to be the best I can be.
"I feel very lucky to have been given the chance to grow from a 22-year-old into the captain and person I try to be today," Smith said later when finally asked the question.
In the mix of things
"To be included in the same sentence as the legendary captains is very special, but I'm still very much in the mix of things, so that's all I can think about now – the current Test match. Maybe after five days I can reflect on that a little bit more," Smith said.
Andrew Strauss is completing a significant "double" of his own with his 100th cap and 50th as captain. "We all have a great deal of respect for Andrew and everything he has achieved in the game. He should be, and deserves to be, very proud of those landmarks," Smith said.
But that was just about all he could say about the match – the rest of his time was spent feeding the voracious and insatiable desire of the locals to get to the bottom of the "Textgate" scandal that has put Pietersen's international career in jeopardy.
"We just cannot believe how this has grown and grown. We have no idea how it started. I haven't seen any text messages, but what's wrong with players being in touch with each other?
"For years people have been saying that international players should socialise more with each other off the field, that the professional era has ruined that relationship. Now they're saying we shouldn't do that. Kevin grew up with certain people and has played IPL cricket with them. For all I know he was inviting them out to dinner," Smith said.
For all his attempts to downplay the episode, there is no doubt that Smith and his players became increasingly agitated – perhaps even close to angry – when seasoned experts, such as former England captain Michael Atherton, suggested the tourists had played a witting role in Pietersen's demise.
"Absolute rubbish," said Smith. "I've never heard such nonsense in my life. I'm very proud of every one of the players and how they have handled themselves through this whole episode."
The unpalatable but likely truth for Pietersen supporters is slowly beginning to emerge and will surely do so before much longer: the "leaked" text messages almost certainly came from within or the very near vicinity of the England camp, not the South African one. There was ample evidence from half a dozen England players to suggest that someone – or even several people – felt Pietersen's conduct was so offensive that tipping off the press would be justified for truth and public interest, never mind having a happy England change room.
Among Pietersen's high-profile friends is former tabloid editor-turned-chat show host Piers Morgan, one of the few men in England who appears able to match Pietersen in terms of attracting attention to himself for all the wrong reasons. Among several outbursts that had cricket folk shaking their heads in disbelief was this rant: "KP has been the consummate professional ON the field and that's all that matters!"
If ever there was a statement to represent the antithesis of the coaching style and beliefs of, ironically, both Gary Kirsten and his England counterpart Andy Flower, that was it. Sure, you can count the runs and wickets of any individual, but you can never, ever count the runs and wickets not forthcoming from that individual's teammates because of the negative influence he creates.
In all team sports there must be what Strauss described as an atmosphere of "trust and mutual respect" for sustained success to be achieved. The man from Durban just does not seem to get that.
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