Never before have South Africans been prouder in defeat and never before have they risen so high to applaud the bravery and courage of one of their cricketing heroes as they, and the cricket world, did yesterday in Sydney.
The last time South Africa were in Australia captain Smith, then a young man, was seen as abrasive, short sighted and all talk by the Australian media, and it must be said by people within the world game, most famously perhaps the man most South African supporters love to hate, Kevin Pietersen. How that has all changed.
Smith has emerged from this tour as the leading cricket captain in the game. He may have been hated last time out, but this time he has been embraced and loved.
When he strode out to the middle towards the end of day 5 of the Sydney Test, last man in, with his elbow injury and new finger injury effectively meaning he was batting one handed, the Australian crowd stood and applauded, recognising the courage and leadership that they respect and look for in their heroes. Smith was out there to save his team, his country, from defeat, and put his body on the line. Together with Ntini, playing the innings of his life, they got South Africa to within 10 balls of saving the Test. With Smith left the field, last man out, having been bowled by Mitchell Johnson, the stadium once again stood to applaud the man. Seldom before had an innings of just 3 runs been so highly appreciated. And South Africa lost the Test. They were however not applauding the score, the mere 3 runs scored by the opposition captain, but rather the man himself.
Smith has backed up his words with runs this time round. More than that he has shown leadership qualities that fully justify the selectors choice in naming him captain in 2003 at just 22 years of age. The boy captain has become a man, a leader of men, and a successful one at that. While in his early years as captain, and to a degree up until this highly successful year for the Proteas, Smith was not as highly regarded outside his dressing room as he was in it. The South African cricketers would have walked through walls for their captain. The rest of the world, particularly those in England and Australia, couldn’t see why. They clearly understand now. Smiths match, and series, winning century against England in the 3rd Test, changed the minds of those doubters in England. His century against Australia, another match and series winning second innings knock, made the Aussies take notice. His leadership and belief in his players have been there for all to see. His bravery and courage is worn on his sleeve.
Smith knows that his players will walk through walls for him. They inturn know he’ll do the same. One Aussie newspaper described Smith as the bravest cricketer in the world. They’re right. South Africa have a leader who rises to the occasion, who leads from the front, who puts the best interests of the team ahead of his own, and who wins them Test series.
Smiths legend has been growing for a while now, on Monday, in Sydney, it was sealed.
pic from cricinfo.com