| New England skipper Michael Vaughan (left) with predecessor Nasser Hussain during a practice session at Lord’s on Wednesday. (AP)
London: South Africa captain Graeme Smith, having seen off one England Test skipper in Nasser Hussain, is now plotting to unsettle the Essex batsman’s successor Michael Vaughan.
Hussain, 35, resigned his post on Monday after the drawn first Test of the five-match series at Edgbaston. He had set himself up for a fall by saying in the build-up that South Africa were “ripe for the taking.”
Left-hander Smith’s response was to score a national record 277 in a total of 594 for five declared — South Africa’s best Test score against England. His innings ensured that South Africa were on top as England hung on for a draw.
Not that Smith, at 22 South Africa’s youngest-ever captain, was getting carried away. “Probably we have the psychological advantage, though I don’t like talking about it too much, it can come back and bite you,” the Western Province batsman explained.
Smith won a good toss on a placid Edgbaston pitch and made the most of it with opening partner Herschelle Gibbs (179). And unlike England, Smith could always call on his immediate predecessor Shaun Pollock to give him some much-needed control in the field.
New-ball spearhead Pollock took just two wickets in the match but was a constant threat with his accuracy and Smith said: “Shaun bowled superbly. People said he had lost pace and passion but I think he was the best bowler in the match. All he needs now is a bit of luck and a few edges.”
Hussain’s resignation obscured the fact that England struggled to avoid the follow-on, new Test captain Michael Vaughan’s impressive 156 notwithstanding. Their bowlers took only nine wickets in the match against a South African team without Jacques Kallis, who will miss the second Test as well after the death of his father.
Vaughan, who became England’s one-day captain after Hussain quit limited overs Internationals following the side’s first-round exit at the World Cup, has been much praised for his “relaxed” style of leadership. But all successful Test captains have had a touch of Hussain’s self-confessed ‘backside kicking’ approach about them.
They have also had bowlers capable of dismissing sides twice which no captain, however gifted or inspiring, can afford to be without for long. Vaughan, Test cricket’s leading run-scorer in 2002, is currently the best player in a side which, for Lord’s at least, still features Hussain.
But star performers such as Ian Botham have lost form when given the England captaincy and Smith was well aware of the burden of expectation upon Vaughan. “It definitely puts a bit of pressure on Vaughan again. Maybe it will weigh on his shoulders, who knows. But it could be a breakthrough for us.”
The man himself sounded confident. “I’m quite relaxed, but when I’m on the pitch I’m very focused,” Vaughan said on Tuesday. “I’m pretty competitive and I expect players to play that way as well. There will be times when I have to have harsh words with the team, that’s part of the job. I guess captaining over five days will be mentally tougher and more tiring but I think I am ready for the job.”
Despite England’s problems, South Africa’s attack — Pollock and Makhaya Ntini excepted — remains inexperienced and it will be a test of their resolve if they have to bowl first at Lord’s.
Smith said the early exchanges would be crucial. “England will regroup and come out fighting. The first day at Lord’s will be the key to the match.”