The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Graeme Smith: I am learning every day
- SA skipper says he doesn’t duck pressure

Lahore: When Graeme Smith was appointed South Africa’s youngest ever cricket captain at the age of 22 in March, critics dismissed him as too young and too inexperienced.

But eight months down the line, after a reasonably successful tour of England and a fightback in Pakistan to win the one-day series 3-2, Smith has settled well into the job.

“I have learnt to handle all levels of responsibility. But things have been made easier because I am leading a fantastic bunch of players,” Smith said ahead of the first Test against Pakistan which starts on Friday.

Smith replaced the popular Shaun Pollock, who was sacked as captain after South Africa’s early exit from the World Cup, and he had few leadership credentials behind him.

Former South Africa coach Bob Woolmer said at the time: “Graeme is too young and hasn’t done his apprenticeship yet. To be the captain of an international side one needs to go through the apprenticeship period and do a lot of hard work to get there.”

The fact that Smith managed back-to-back Test double centuries — a national-record 277 at Edgbaston and a match-winning 259 at Lord’s — during the England tour helped to swiftly increase his standing as a player and a captain.

Last weekend, he was given a vote of confidence by chief selector Omar Henry who said: “So far the team has progressed well under his supervision. We know he will make mistakes but he will also learn. He is a confident character and cricketer.”

Smith himself is happy with the responsibility of leading the team. “I can now rely on the senior players in the team and I have had no problems with getting them to accept my decisions,” he said. “But I am learning every day. This tour to Pakistan is very important for me and for South African cricket. Playing in sub-continental conditions help you mature. So far we have adapted well and it is good to see that the boys are hungry and passionate for the coming tests,” he said.

Pakistan has never been an easy place for touring sides and the build-up to South Africa’s visit was overshadowed by security concerns expressed by the South African board and players in Pakistan. But since the team arrived in Pakistan, Smith has scored points with the local media for his ability to have a laugh and for his eloquence.

With the experience of only 15 Tests behind him, Smith faces the challenge of the two Tests in Pakistan and he is realistic enough to concede the ODI series triumph may count for nothing. “It’s been a mental dogfight out there. But we’ve got the edge back. But still it is going to be a couple of tough games ahead of us,” he said.

For a team still haunted by the Hansie Cronje scandal, Smith’s appointment may come to be recognised as a masterstroke. “To me the best interests of the team come first. If I wasn’t pulling my weight then I would step aside. I don’t like to avoid issues and I don’t like to duck the pressure,” Smith said. (Reuters)

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