| Graeme Smith at a press conference at Newlands in Cape Town Sunday. (AFP)
Cape Town: Two months ago, Western Province skipper Graeme Smith found himself on the wrong end of a foul-mouthed confrontation with the South African national team as Shaun Pollock’s side played a World Cup warm-up match at Greenpoint.
Four weeks later, all was forgotten as the 22-year-old Smith was called-up to replace the injured Jonty Rhodes for the World Cup.
Now, a further four weeks down the line, Smith has come full circle by being named successor to Pollock who was unceremoniously dumped following the country’s failure to get past the first round of the tournament.
It was in that warm-up match, however, where Smith showed the sort of battling qualities and tough skin which he will need if he is to rescue his country from the doldrums.
He stood his ground when he was dismissed that day because he claimed the field restrictions were being ignored and that the delivery should have been called a no-ball.
Pollock and his men were not impressed as they pointed him towards the pavilion while angry swear words were exchanged between them.
That incident was pushed to one side when Smith came back to the World Cup squad where he eventually played three matches scoring 121 runs.
When reminded that he had clashed with some of his teammates, Smith pointed out that when he played cricket, he always played to win, regardless of the opposition.
“Cricket is a game you have to play at 100 per cent all the time, even if it means getting into fights with your teammates,” he said.
It is believed Smith was chosen precisely because of this aggressive and strong personality.
“We are looking at the 2007 World Cup. It is a new era,” chairman of selectors Omar Henry said.
Smith was widely regarded to have been extremely unlucky to have missed out on the original 15-man squad as the selectors carried through their intention of picking five non-White players.
But Rhodes’ broken hand gave him the opportunity to bid for World Cup glory.
“It was the toughest thing I have had to deal with in my life,” said Smith of his original exclusion.
“Getting a century in the Test (against pakistan) immediately after that made it easier to deal with, and I was also amazed at the amount of support I received,” he said.
“I think I learnt a lot and matured as a result of having been left out of the team.
“I knew I was on the reserve list, so I had to keep in shape, and stay focused,” said Smith, who has played eight Tests and 22 one-dayers.
“But it still felt horrible when I watched the team walk out at Newlands for the first game against West Indies without me.
“Not just because it was a World Cup — just missing out on playing for your country is always hard.”
One thing is for certain, it will get a lot tougher from now on.
Smith, who was born in Johannesburg has played eight Test matches, with a top score of 200 against Bangladesh at East London. He has two hundreds and two fifties.
He has a creditable one-day record as well, having played 22 matches with his highest score being 99 versus Sri Lanka.