As you guys know, I`m still on a bit of a high after our cricket side made history by beating Australia, in Australia, for the first time in a test series. It has been a long time coming. Our last series in Australia (3 years ago) ended with us being whitewashed 3-0. It was ugly. Graeme Smith, our captain, was vilified both here and abroad for being brash, big mouthed and egotistical. I was one of his critics. In a big way.
But that was then and this is now. The Graeme Smith who captains this side is far removed from that brash youngster. He is a man now, a man who others follow willingly. A man who leads by example and a man who puts his body on the line for his team, his country and the fans.
Graeme Smith broke his hand during the first innings of the last test in Sydney. It was immediately put into a cast and announced that he would be out of cricket for at least 6 weeks. It did not matter because South Africa had already won the series and were leading 2-0. The Sydney test was therefore a dead rubber.
But, on the last day of the test, South Africa was fighting to stave of defeat. Our top order had been bowled out and the bowlers were now trying to save it. A 2-0 result sounds better than a 2-1. Over after over was bowled and yet, unbeliebably we hung on. We were 8 wickets down and the Aussies knew they only needed one more to win the test because Graeme Smith would not be able to bat. Then the 9th wicket fell and the Aussies started celebrating.
But then, the unthinkable happened. Graeme Smith came out the dressing room and walked onto the field. He had cut the cast off and was willing to bat with a broken hand to save the test for SOuth Africa. The Aussie crowd stood as one and started cheering this great man. Graeme Smith had come full circle. The man who was mocked 3 years earlier now got a standing ovation.
Graeme batted bravely for 6 overs and was the last man out, 10 balls from saving the test. The Aussies came up to him and you could see the utter respect they all have for him now. Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain, called it the single bravest thing he has ever seen.
Graeme Smith flew back to South Africa and got here to a heroes welcome yesterday. His own fans now see him as their captain. The man had turned public perception around. In the interview at the airport he seemed shocked at all the attention and adulation. He shouldn`t be, he deserves every second of it.
Oh Captain, OUR Captain, we salute you...
This is an excerpt of an article that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. The writer is Andrew Stevenson and his words make me extremely proud of my cricket team and the characcter they showed during the test series.
"Nationalism is, indeed, the last refuge of the scoundrel and I have to admit I've had a few sleep-overs there, most especially during those nights in 1999. Steve Waugh accused Herschelle Gibbs of dropping the World Cup. More accurately, Australia robbed it from them.
"Hard but brittle, South Africa was the team I loved to see beaten. But this tour was different. Just when the nationalistic juices began to flow, this young, confident and courageous South African team stilled them - not with a look, not with a moment of luck but over sessions of determined play. When the game seemed lost and the Australians rightfully poised for victory, the South Africans dug themselves out of trouble, turned the pressure back on the hosts and made them look fallible.
"They did it once in Perth and it might have been a fluke. Melbourne destroyed that idea and then yesterday, when most tailenders would have chosen spontaneous combustion and hapless capitulation, Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini did it again.
"And for the first time in my life as a cricketing spectator I felt my loyalties shift. Having grown up on a diet of Lillee, Marsh and Chappell, I'd found an opponent I could love. With every play-and-miss, Ntini seemed more worthy. Every time Steyn stood in line with the stumps and offered fierce resistance, I was in his corner. Smith's arrival at the crease was the crowning moment but surpassing what had come before.
"In defeat, South Africa issued a proclamation to the cricketing world every bit as resounding as their twin victories entering this match. If you want to beat us, be ready for a long fight: we will not cencede an inch. "A new champion has arrived in world cricket: long may they reign."