Former Proteas spinner Paul Harris has identified the one innings from Graeme Smith he wishes he could have played himself.
Speaking to Cricket Monthly, Harris recalled the standout innings from his captain he most wishes he could have played.
Smith, who played 112 Tests for South Africa, scoring 27 centuries, will go down as an all-time great. The uncompromising opener was renowned for his fighting spirit at the crease, especially in the fourth innings when the chips were down.
Although many glittering knocks spring to mind, for Harris there is only one that stands out above the rest: Smith’s 154* against England at Edgbaston in 2008. England had set the Proteas an imposing target of 281 in the fourth innings to win the Test match and the series.
’That was the best innings I’d ever seen. We [Proteas] were all panicking and it was nerve-wracking because chasing down a score to win a Test series in England doesn’t happen very often, so we were a bit stressed out, but Graeme was in the zone,’ Harris explained.
‘England had a pretty good side. They had beaten the Aussies in the Ashes at home, they had [Andrew] Flintoff and KP [Kevin Pietersen], and Michael Vaughan was their captain. Not many people gave us a chance.’
The wicket was a classic fourth-innings minefield. Harris remembers how the English exploited prodigious turn out of the footmarks and some variable bounce to cause the Proteas lineup a world of grief. Never a batsman stronger through the onside, Smith navigated everything England threw his way, though.
’The ball was doing quite a bit. It was spinning out the rough from Monty Panesar, and Flintoff was bowling thunderbolts. Graeme just kept hitting to the leg side. He just kept doing it and kept doing it and kept doing it.’
Harris added how the bowling contingent of Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn and himself were rooted to the spot, watching the match unfold on the television.
‘I watched it from the changing room and I wasn’t allowed to move. The problem with the television is that it’s always three or four seconds behind, so if there was a large roar we’d know there was a wicket and we would get tense again, and if it was quiet we would just keep sitting.’
Though Harris claims that if he could come back as a batsman in another life, he would rather come in at No 4 or 5, he still has plenty of admiration for his former skipper’s dogged style.
‘I’d come back as AB, or Virat Kohli or Kevin Pietersen or someone that was quite flamboyant and got a few headlines – because I didn’t get too many when I was playing!
‘But I still wish I had played that knock. If I had to steal one of Graeme’s hundreds, I would steal that one.’